I’ve been writing the (new) first draft of my novel for a little over a month now, and I’m in the second week of NaNoWriMo, which I’ve done and won twice before. The journey has been an unexpected one: I keep telling myself that it will get easier, that I’ve already proven I can burst through a first draft. That’s not truly the case, though. I’ve never written under these particular circumstances, and I feel my path is less one of getting that first draft written and more one of discovering myself and my writing process. I’m finally at a place where I am casting aside preconceived notions of what I (feel I) should be doing. I am instead embracing the Authentic Me.
In the past weeks, I’ve had trouble getting into the flow of writing, thinking too much about what to write down and then judging the words once they exist. Rule Number One for writing is DON’T EDIT AS YOU GO. Let it just happen and see what results. There will be things to polish later, but there will also be diamonds in the rough you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.
I haven’t been allowing that to happen, because it matters more now. I’ve achieved this flow state in the past, but I was working a regular job and writing as a hobby. Now, writing IS my job, and with that comes the pressure to prove I can succeed. First drafts aren’t meant to be pretty, they aren’t meant to be presentable and polished, but I’ve been judging them as if they are. It’s paralyzing.
I’ve also not been writing with my own sensibility and voice. I’ve been preoccupied with the market, publishing restrictions, action pacing, etc. Writing to what others expect from my category and not to my own voice. I haven’t been engaged with my story because of it; I haven’t let my characters breathe through me. Last week, I did that for the first time: I rewrote a scene as I wanted to write it, and the results were surprising and felt good. I hadn’t realized I was suffocating my inner voice, and my story was worse off for it. I need to succeed to keep writing full time, yes, but at the end of the day, I’m writing not for money or fame. I’m writing because I have a story to tell, and I’m the only one who can tell it. In my way. In the way it begs to be heard.
As I handed over the scene for my writing coach to critique, I almost didn’t care what he had to say about it (at least, not as a whole—there are of course improvements to be made). But the style, the voice? It was 100% Authentic Me, and I was accessing that again. I finally felt pleased with something I wrote.
This journey back to myself all came to a head in the above embedded video. It’s my participation in the “Selfie Sprint Challenge” fundraising effort for NaNoWriMo, in which participants need to write furiously for one minute on a random topic. I chose a first-line generator to kick-start my story, and the line it gave me was a doozy: “I went to my father’s grave, to ask his advice.” For anyone who knows me, there couldn’t have been a more loaded first sentence. My dad died 11 years ago under painful and difficult circumstances, and I’m still processing certain parts of it.
Instead of running, instead of stopping the video and redoing it with another line, I stayed true to the challenge. This is the line I was given, this is a showcase of me and who I am, this is part of my process to combat debilitating perfectionism. I had to show myself, pain and all, typos and grammatical errors and all. So I did. It was scary. But I embraced the spirit of the moment and posted the video for the world to see. I’m proud of myself for that.
The point of writing a book, creating a story, is to give myself to the world in some small way. Telling the story the only way I can, because it comes from my heart and my soul. I can’t be worried about things I have no control over: book markets, public perception, who will read it, etc. I can only control the words and emotions on the page. I need to be authentically me, or else the story won’t ring true to readers. That’s what I want more than anything: a story that touches people and changes the way they view the world. My book has done that for me, and I wish to share that sense of wonder and authenticity.
Welcome, me. It’s nice to have you back.