Things have gone so horribly wrong in my writing so many times that I long ago learned not to feed the fiction of having control by making a plan for when I might be done with any aspect of what I’m creating. In reality, going off any preconceived rails is, contrary to what one might think, a good thing. It means I am open to new ideas and change, that I am engaging with what winds up on the page and asking important questions. Why? When? Really? What happened before? I put one word in front of another, getting it only kind of right (or even totally wrong), until my attention snags on something innocuous, and I stumble closer to the root of a character or scene or all-out mistake and end up near the right path.
Right now, I have recently finished rewriting the first half of the novel I started over the summer and am pushing forward into the great unknown again. I had gotten it wrong, or only kind of right, and I needed to try again. Now, sixty thousand words in, I already know I’ll need to try it again once more, that I’m still not writing these women the way they need to be, urgently real and flawed and loving and afraid. The plan is to figure it out. To try hard. To trust that over a decade of doing this means that I will get to a satisfying end eventually if I don’t let myself give up.
2022 has not gone according to plan on a personal level, either. My confidence that I know how to figure it out, to try hard, to trust abilities I have proven to have over so many years and in so many different venues, was more than shaken; it was obliterated. My plans shrank to making it through the day. My goals contracted to the smallest steps in any direction other than backward. Everything was hard, and hard things were impossible. I was not myself but just familiar enough that I panicked at what I seemed to have lost. Depression and anxiety led to brain fog and crippling self doubt, and ideas about what I might accomplish professionally or with my writing had to get revised again and again until I could get to a place where I had more good days than bad and could stake stock.
As you can tell from these newsletters, I am harsh about my own writing (okay, I’m harsh about what I read, too, but that’s another story). I must be, if I want to be able to make my words reflect at all the richness of my imagination. If I have any chance at progressing as an artist, it must come through, as I wrote long ago, “seeking out the next of the infinite layers of hardness in saying something better, more effectively, as starkly real as I can manage.” This means developing a devastatingly critical eye.
But to my words, not to myself. Writing shit doesn’t make me shit. Not knowing what comes next doesn’t make me stupid. Getting things wrong does not condemn me to getting everything wrong for all of eternity. I didn’t plan on becoming a kind person. The deck was stacked against it, in fact. I could be polite and courteous, but my internal pencil was always too sharp for more than that. Still, I learned and changed. I found value in a broader empathy and caring. I began to give the benefit of the doubt without having to try all that hard. Just not to myself.
This year has changed that. As I rehabilitate myself back toward my normal functionality, I don’t want to be exactly like I was; I want to be better. Not smarter or more productive but seeing what I can get out of love and kindness in addition to the criticism and judgement I’ve honed through the years. My plan now? One day at a time and one word then the next, all riding on the belief that I’ll get to where I want to go, just as long as I keep moving.