First, a note: some time ago, I lost my copy of Stephen King’s book, On Writing. The contents of it are what the title would suggest, and it’s the single best book about writing that I’ve ever read. It inspired me endlessly as a high school student, first discovering that I’m good at words, after spending childhood writing for the sheer love of it.
When I found that my copy of On Writing was lost, I nearly cried. It felt like a metaphor, or something. But life’s not like that, and I assign meaning where there is none. Just because I’ve lost Mr. King’s book doesn’t mean I have to lose my own.
Second, a history: I’ve written three books for NaNoWriMo. The first, when I was 15, was called – aptly – Fifteen. It was a series of short stories about 15 year old girls at different points throughout the 20th century – and it was pretty damn fun to write. I did so well at NaNo that first year that I finished five days early. To be fair, it was a gentle wade into the difficulty of the challenge, because I wasn’t technically writing a novel. The experience was so much fun that the following year, when I found out that the Pitch Doctors were coming to a nearby bookstore to hold one of their pitch contests – where contestants have 1 minute to pitch their novel, and the winner receives a meeting with an agent – I decided to go. Here’s a video of my pitch – beware, I’m talking really fucking fast and the beginning is an extremely narrow-minded view of female adolescence that the rest of the pitch – and the book – challenges (whatever, I have a lot to say about Fifteen and it’s for another time and place).
Anyway, I won the contest and was offered a meeting with an agent, but I decided not to do it. At the time it was a decision that a lot of people (namely, my mother) criticized, but I knew that I was so young, and I didn’t want to put something out there that wasn’t my best work. It was then, I think, when I came just a little bit close to the possibility of actually publishing a book (and I want to be clear – I know a meeting with an agent wouldn’t have ended with me publishing a book, but it would have been the first step in a process that I wasn’t ready to start). I realized that I was young, and I didn’t know things. I was acutely aware of the fact that my thoughts, while valid, were half-formed at best. And I didn’t want them out there forever, when they were so subject to change.
Ever since then, my relationship with writing has been different. I still love writing, and I enjoy it when I’m actually doing it, but before and after I sit down and write something, I’m terrified. Writing is simultaneously my favorite thing to do in the world, and the thing that scares me the most.
I wrote two more NaNo novels, and haven’t written any since 2013 – and that was four years ago. I know four years isn’t, cosmically speaking, a long time, but the amount of times I’ve started to write a book since then is a little ridiculous.
I started college as an English major with a concentration in Creative Writing, all set to become a creative writer and for that to be the only thing I ever did, ever. But before the end of my first semester, I changed my major to Communications. To be fair, that was my best decision in my college career. I wouldn’t have liked being an English major as much as I like being a Communications major (which is a lot). I’ve learned lots of new types of writing, and I’ve improved my writing tenfold since I started college.
But I write a lot less creative stuff than ever before. That’s something that’s a little hard to admit, because I pride myself on being a creative writer, first and foremost, because it’s what I’ve always been and what I’ve always planned on being.
And that still stands. I still plan on being a creative writer. But I’ve realized lately that being a creative writer is always more of an eventuality than an existing thing. I’m like, Oh yeah, I love creative writing, I’m going to write a novel. I’m going to write a novel. I’m always going to write one. As soon as… something. I’ll write one in the summer. I’ll write one after this job ends. I’ll write one when I don’t have so much schoolwork. On, and on, and on, and it’s not because I lost my copy of On Writing. The reason, by the way, that I don’t buy a new one is because I’m still waiting for my old copy to turn up, even though I’ve scoured my room and it’s decidedly not there.
So what am I waiting for, then? Am I waiting for the ultimate inspiration to strike? Am I waiting for someone’s permission to start sucking? When I first watched this video years and years ago, I was pissed. I was like, Um, no, I don’t suck, I’m amazing. I’m so good at writing. I should get an award.
And then I did get an award, and I got an opportunity to meet with an agent, and I passed it up. I got a whiff of what it would be like to have people reading my books, and it filled me with fear – fear of sucking, of saying the wrong thing, of being stupid, of being offensive, of being hopeless, of not saying exactly what it is that I want to say to the universe.
I know I’m a good writer. I write poetry people like sometimes. I write short stories people like sometimes. I write articles and essays and things that people like sometimes. All of that is cool.
But what I want more than anything in this whole sparkling universe is to write another goddamn novel.
And I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it without having the first clue where On Writing went. Without thinking about an agent, or an audience, or my past self, or my future self. My present self is the only one here right now, and I really, really, really want to write another novel.
Even if it kind of sucks.