Hunting for the Panacea

Standing at the beginning of a book is very daunting. It maws before you, seemingly endless. Impossible. All of those empty pages that need filling up. And not just with words, but with characters whose breath readers will be able to feel. With situations and emotions that will resonate. With phrases so stylish, even jaded editors and reviewers will stop and scratch their heads in admiration. It daunts you, and so much more.

It took years and years and years for me to gain the courage to attempt it: I had such a heavy investment in my inability to even finish writing a novel -- let alone make it sing -- that it took me quite a while to even make a proper attempt.

Then I spent several years talking to novelists -- for January Magazine -- about how they did it. On a certain level I think I was looking for their secrets. Like if I took mental notes from successful authors, one day I’d have this roadmap to writing a novel and I could just go and do it. Don’t all of us, at one time our another, find ourselves looking for a panacea?

What I discovered is that the process is very different for every writer. I mean, really different. And no panacea. One writer needs to sit in a window seat with a mittfull of #10 pencils and a pile of yellow legal pads, another must always wear pearls and Chanel No. 5 while at her computer (unsurprisingly, this was a romance novelist), another can only write in busy cafes on his laptop. And so on.

So the physical part of writing a novel is a very individual thing. The emotional part is not as different. Every author who felt comfortable enough with me to be candid admitted to fear, during at least part of the process. Fear that they weren't good enough. Fear that their next book would never be as good as their last. Fear that their inner voices would stop them in their tracks.

Some of the top novelists of our generation have told me -- both on the record and occasionally off -- that they faced this fear almost every time they sat down to write. If they all felt that way, how could I expect to feel differently? How can you? That insecurity is the thing that connects almost all of us. I found comfort in that, somehow. Comfort and strength. If they could do it... and so on.

And now... here I am.


Sandra Ruttan said…
I remember an author telling me they were holding themselves back from writing something new for a few months, until the desire was so strong they had to start a new project.

Maybe that's the key - waiting until you're so filled with the need to write it overcomes the fear of starting?
Nice try but, naw... that's sort of the point of the post. Not that it's something you overcome, but something you work with. Kind of like an undocumented feature. Thanks for commenting, though. Always fun to hear from you!

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