Two years ago, before I had my agent or my publisher or any realistic hope of either, I was writing a book and having a hard time of it.
Books are like forests. When seen from the road or on maps they appear contained, green blocks squeezed in between fields, but when you’re lost in one and the sun is sinking, nothing feels larger or more overwhelming. This is how I feel sometimes when I write: lost in something that looked so sure and easy, fumbling, feeling like I’m going the right way but never sure. Back when I was writing with the hope of being published, I used to tell myself that this would change once I got my contract. I remember reading author blogs and hearing about wonderful writing retreats, cozy writing cabins where words flowed like water, and I thought yes, this is where I want to be. Not here, at my desk, staring at the screen, not knowing what comes next, or worse, not having written and overwhelmed with guilt because of it.
Now that I am published, with a great agent and a fantastic house, I keep waiting for things to get easier. After all, I’m writing full time now. I have a schedule, deadlines. Instead of one novel I’ve written four, which is more like ten when you count all the pages I’ve cut. And yet, at the core of what is Rachel-in-writing, nothing has changed from two years ago. I’m still in the middle of a novel, and having a rough time with it. There are still days when I hate writing. Days, like today, when I’m tired and sick and feel horribly guilty because I haven’t written. I feel guilt over writing like I do over nothing else because writing is so personal. Not personal as in tragic confessions or secrets, deeper than that. Even with editors and readers, writing is always a solo performance at its heart. No one controls my story but me, and when it goes off course or stalls out, I have no one to blame but myself. But it’s even deeper than that. Writing has always been my great dream, my one goal. When I fail at writing, I fail myself. I think all writers feel this way sometimes.
So no, writing never gets easier, at least not for me, but slowly I’ve started to appreciate what that means about writing as a discipline. Writing at its core level is me, a person, telling a story. I can learn all the narrative structure and dramatic tricks I want, but that fundamental part, the story, is always a product of me, and thus imperfect. So long as my stories are unique, so long as they are mine, they will always be hard to get right. So long as I’m telling the stories I create, I will always have days when I hate telling them, but I also know beyond any doubt that I will be happy I told it in the end. That the only way to make my story worth telling is to slog through to the end.
Today I did not write. Tomorrow I will get up, I will sit down at my desk, and I will write. This is how I’ve told all my stories worth telling – one day at a time. Some days I make it, some days I fail, some days I write three thousand words only to lose half of them the next. I feel guilt when I don’t write, joy when I do, but each of these are fleeting, and the next day is always the same: a new start, a new morning, another chance to beat back the forest and finally emerge blinking into the sunlight. It’s been this way for five years, since I first got serious about my goal, and I feel it will be this way for years to come. It won’t get any easier, and it shouldn’t. The day it gets easier is the day I’ve stopped telling new stories, and that, more than any bad day or blank computer screen, is what I fear the most.