Awaiting the next draft
I’m a struggling writer. I finished the first draft of two novels this year. Those two sentences don’t sound right next to each other, do they? But they’re both true. I wrote well over a hundred thousand words between February and July, but today both drafts remain in rough form, sitting in Google Drive, awaiting my attention.
I have extensive notes on the changes I want to make, and I’ve started rewrites on the second story, but it’s a daunting task. Where to start? I’m not sure where I’m going with either novel. I have no idea if they are any good. At the moment, I can’t see the path that will bring me to the next draft.
Besides these two books, I have beginnings and scenes and character sketches for a dozen other novels, scores of short stories, essays and blog posts and flash fiction. I have piles of ideas, document upon document of notes.
But I still don’t feel like a writer
I don’t know if I have what it takes to write a book that I, much less anyone else, would want to read.
I used to write all the time when I was younger. Stories for friends about boys, fan fiction for the shows and books I obsessed over. A personal blog I updated nearly every day, secret diaries, journals written under pseudonyms. I developed alter egos and fictional characters and alternate universes. I wrote the truth with a veneer of fiction, trying to turn appearances on the surface into something that reflected what was happening inside. But it became too revealing, too intimate, too much.
I never stopped writing, but for a long time I stopped wanting to write for an audience. What I write about evolved. My style and tone shifted. The doubt remains, but I’m slowly learning to push past it. I keep asking myself hard questions, and I don’t know any of the answers. What does this story mean? What is it really about? What am I trying to say? But that’s okay. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be so rewarding. So I keep writing.
But it’s not enough just to keep going. I need to constantly get back to basics, relearn everything I think I know, think like a beginner. Like one of William Stafford’s aphorisms about writing from Sound of the Ax: “I write not because I understand and want to expose, but because I understand nothing. I experience newness every day and write of it as the first tasting of interest.” I don’t write because I know anything special; I write because I want to figure things out.
Figuring things out
Michel de Montaigne is my favourite example of the person who writes to figure things out. As Sarah Bakewell writes in How to Live: Or, A Life of Montaigne, his essays “have no great meaning, no point to make, no argument to advance.” He argues one side and then the other. He changes his mind all the time. He is always seeking to enlarge his mind; always trying to find another perspective he hadn’t considered before.
I’m afraid of being misunderstood, or being understood too well. Maybe I’ll offend someone or make a misstep. But if I write to figure things out, nothing is set in stone. I’m likely to change my mind tomorrow if, as The Dude might say, new shit comes to light. I might change my mind, and isn’t that a good thing?
So, after a long break from writing online, I’m back. Ampersunder is different from what I’ve ever done before. It’s something new for me, and I’m excited to see what it becomes.
My writing life has been turned inward for many years, and it’s time to change. I’ve spent enough time writing only for myself, appreciating the inspiration and examples of others but not sharing or reaching outward. I’ve been hiding for long enough.