It’s the end of a very long week of editing. I’ve had this low grade bug thingy that made me feel lousy enough to almost feel cranky. Feeling crappy hasn’t helped because editing has been extremely tough and has challenged every synapse that was still willing to fire. So tough, that the beagle even laid low, just to avoid any sudden outbursts from my piehole. But as difficult as editing this book has been, my heart is very tender because I know the author loves this book.
And she should. It’s riveting and important.
I understand the passion and determination it took to write this book because I can see it oozing through every verb and noun, which makes me pour every bit of my own passion and determination into making this book sing from the mountain tops.
I see passionate writing every day. I see it in all the books we’ve published, and I see it in submissions. I also see it at writer’s conferences – regardless of talent. That passion is the fuel that feeds the beast. But what happens when the beast no longer feels fed?
“I want to quit.”
I heard that at a conference not too long ago, and it shredded my heart. I felt responsible because I’d had a private consult with this same author and same manuscript for three years in a row. My crits never changed, and neither did the manuscript. I think she was hoping I’d forgotten that I’d already read this six times before and would magically fall in love. Wasn’t gonna happen. Ever. Truly, it was time to let it go and think about something else. Another book, perhaps.
Tears pooled in her eyes. She was defeated, and we both knew it. I felt like I’d stabbed her in the heart and twisted. “Thing is,” she said, “I like how I feel when I write. I lose myself in my story and I get in touch with emotions that never surface in my every day life. I like me.”
I like me. Wow.
Totally get that, I do. I’m no doctor, but I’m sure there’s a pharmacy a-brewin’ in our brains when we’re creating something, be it art, writing, music, poetry. I think of Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, when his baseball player ghost of a father asks if the baseball field is Heaven, and Kevin replies, “It’s Iowa.”
Not to diss Iowa, but I can’t think of a better place to never consider as my own personal Nirvana. But I understand the sentiment – as I think most writers do. Of course there are times when we’d rather toss our darlings against the wall and shriek, “What the hell was I thinking??” But when it comes right down to it, I like me when I’m writing. I like how I have to grab my literary shovel and go dumpster diving in order to expose deep-seated emotions that I know will enhance a scene. I’m not just writing a story – I find that I’m also learning about me – even though my main characters are two hard-headed surgeons stuck with each other in the middle of the Peruvian Amazon with five med students, an opera-singing anesthesiologist, and a curious shaman. How is it that that a cast of characters can make me a more insightful person?
That is the magic of writing.
And that’s what I told my devastated writer. If she likes herself because she writes, then why on earth stop? I can’t think of a sadder state of affairs than to stop doing something you love simply because you’ve hit a roadblock. Ok, so that book isn’t going to sell. Ever. Or maybe it will after many revisions. But why let that one book define you? Your future? You are not the sum of one book. Or one scene.
If you’re in need of a breather, then give yourself permission to just walk away for a day or so. We all need to put new wind in our sails. But we’re always drawn back to creative selves, so don’t deny that. After all, anyone can just walk away forever. It’s those who are honest about “I like me” who stick it out and punch through to the other side.
How ’bout it? Have you thought about the ways you like yourself when you write?