Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is it a Puddle or a Lake?

I thank God for blogging friends. My life currently isn't surrounded by other writers like it was back in DeKalb when I had my own writer's group. My writer's group buddies were always there for feedback and encouragement. They kept me going when I just wanted to stand still and stare at a blank page. Now, I have found fellow bloggers who slog through with me and, without even realizing it, provide me with the gumption and motivation I often lack.

Today, was a case in point. My blogging friend, Amy, provided this intensely insightful post which is resonating with me deeply. She is expressing the very things my heart and soul have been struggling with for the past several weeks.

Several weeks ago, I read a novel written by someone I know. It was self-published. I read the book as a critic. It was not above criticism. In fact, I dare say it probably would not have been published, as is, by an official publishing company. It held great promise, but had several weaknesses.

Those weaknesses began to plague me. I found myself awash in self-doubt. This writer obviously put forth his very best effort. I began to wonder if my own best efforts are rife with weaknesses that I am unable to see. I began to wonder if the time and effort I am pouring into my own writing is really of any value at all.

Essentially, I began to question my own talents and abilities. I had to ask myself if the waters of my writing talent are really a puddle or a lake. I know (having read a good many outstanding pieces of literature) that I am not near the power of a river or an ocean. But, I began to worry that my abilities are merely the size of a puddle. Instead of focusing on the what-ifs that motivate great story lines, I became obsessed with the what-if of my own talents. What if I only have the talent of a puddle and nothing ever comes of this life-long dream and investment? What if I write novel after novel and they only sit in file folders in piles around my house (because goodness knows, they wouldn't be in a filing cabinet where an organized writer would keep them)?

Talking about my writing is fun. The other night, at book group, I mentioned how thrilled I was to have completed the polished first draft of my second novel (now two out of three of my Nanowrimo efforts have gotten to the first draft stage). When I share with others the basis for the stories I have written, I feel energized and encouraged to plug on. But it is just talk. They nod their heads and make responses I take to be encouraging, but they haven't read a single line of my novels.

I recently sent off one of the novels to four individuals for feedback. I haven't heard anything back. That contributed to the puddle/lake question. I couldn't help but turn to thoughts like, "if they really liked it, they wouldn't be able to put it down and would have gotten back to me by now about the manuscript." (Even though I told each of them that they didn't need to get back to me right away.) Then, the self-doubt about unseen weaknesses took hold in full force. I mused, "perhaps, like me, they are afraid to express their honest response for fear of wounding my pride or something." In reality, they may not have even had time to pick it up and begin reading, but I'm standing here in the wings of the stage wondering what they think of the performance.

All this navel-gazing is exhausting. It has put me into a blue funk. The fear is immense. How does one keep walking (keep writing) when one is afraid of stumbling (failing)? A writer writes not just out of a need to put something down on paper, but with the genuine desire for a reader to respond to what has been written. I read voraciously. I couldn't possibly write with no glimmer of hope for my own writing. But, it is a deadly trap to get hung up on where the writing is leading.

As my life coach would say, "your only requirement is to show up." If what I write never amounts to a hill of beans, I still need to write it because that is what God wants me to do with the talent (puddle or lake) He's given. And maybe I have to write for a good long time before my writing is polished or good enough to warrant the favorable response of others. I must plug on, continue practicing, no matter the outcome. If I fail to pursue my dream, I will certainly fail. If I practice, I may one day have a song worth singing, a story worth telling, and the ability to sing/tell it.

So whether I'm swimming in the shallows or paddling through more, the important thing is to keep making strokes. It is easy to say this - easy to voice the thought that I will write and leave the results to God - not so easy to put pen to paper daily regardless of any reliable assessment of the swimming conditions. I have to fight the fear, fight the self-doubt and just bring forth the words God gives.

And for me, maybe my talent is more in encouraging other writers. When I look at the number of published authors in my old DeKalb writer's group, I smile. Those individuals had to have had moments of doubt, like me. Perhaps I played a role in reminding them to keep swimming, keep writing, regardless of assessment (or lack of assessment) of the conditions.

Amy has encouraged me. Believe me, her talent is an ocean compared to mine. Her willingness to share the self-doubt makes my own self-doubts easier to take. We may not know each other personally and we may not meet in a writer's group ever, but we can spur each other on to plug away with whatever talent we've been given and to let the chips fall where they may.


Elizabeth A. said...

This is a very thought provoking post. I'm going to let it settle and come back and read it again.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad my post encouraged you...but holy cow, I am right exactly where you are. Pondering my ideas and then comparing them to published novels and thinking, yeah, um, Amy, WHAT are you thinking? Those are LAME ideas.

Deep breath.

Today you encouraged me to keep on pushing forward anyway. Maybe even the published writers felt like this, too???

AmySo said...

ooops, ps, that anonymous comment up there is from me, Amy. Pushed "Publish" too soon!