Okay so it’s not easy.
It’s kind of brutal actually. There’s an honesty in writing that smacks you in the face sometimes.
You’ll be going along, maybe a little bored and then your fingers will move across the keys or push the pen across the paper and before you know it, you’ve voiced a feeling that you’ve been avoiding for decades.
It’s worse if it’s fiction.
You can hide behind your characters and write your thoughts into theirs effortlessly without ever having to admit that they’re yours.
I say writing is easy for that reason. I said there was an honesty to it and that’s true. There’s a naivety and freedom in letting the words flow without censoring them.
It’s editing that hurts and it rips you apart.
There’s a reason that National Novel Writing Month is all about getting the words on the page.
One of my favorite quotes that I came across during the time I was writing the first draft of the Librarians goes something like this:
The only thing a first draft has to do is exist.
I think Jane Smiley said it. Don’t ask me who she is. I honestly don’t know, but that thing she said made me feel like I had the wind under my feet and I wrote feverishly and completed a novel in a little over a month.
It was wild.
Jane and NaNoWriMo, however, did not prepare me for the pain of editing the kind of novel that comes out of that process.
I sat down to edit the first few chapters of my novel, The Librarians, with a plan.
I would go through and edit style only
I would take notes of thematic elements
I would take note (but not change) anything that just didn’t work
This is working really well, actually, but I just didn’t realize what I would find when I took a critical and honest look at my character.
It’s not really Fin’s (the protagonist) fault. I love her, actually, and I cherish Senna and Elan and Aeron (all the main heroes of my story). They are special and feel kind of like real people that exist in my life. I think about them just about as often as I think bout any “real” person.
It’s not them that bother me, rather it is the way that I’ve written their journeys. Fin’s journey in particular.
I created her as many authors do, a healthy mix of myself and what I wish I could be.
She’s funny, curious, mischievous (which by the way is one of those words I can never spell properly), trusting, independent to the point of solitude sometimes and also warm in the most subtle way. She is the image of myself that I like. The bright side of my moon with only straw-man darkness that doesn’t hold up in the starkness of a critical eye.
She isn’t real and neither am I when I see myself in this way and that is what makes editing so destructive.
I feel that I must clarify here. Destruction isn’t necessarily negative. It just is. It happens in nature and it happens in our lives and sometimes we don’t wield the power to direct its course, but it’s always there nonetheless.
Editing this story – a story that I felt like I put so much heart and raw energy into – has been hard because that heart and raw energy was actually devoid of either of those things. I still haven’t accessed that place within myself where I am laid bare and neither have I given that place to Fin. And that is what makes great stories so compelling. It is the only way that we begin to see ourselves within the characters of stories written by another’s hand. They show us parts of ourselves that we love or parts that we hate and would rather not see.
Truths emerge, not from profundity or eloquence, but from the simple stripping down to the heart of human nature and we soar upon the wings of the pure air of that simplicity – in its beauty and in its ugliness.
The struggle now becomes ripping her apart – challenging Fin and allowing her to fail in completely un-feminist ways. I have to let her show her weakness so that she may gain her strength because there is no perfect way to be anything.
We all come to our truths through a journey – a struggle or suffering – and I’ll never find hers – or mine – until I let her go.