NaNoWriMo – Day 25 – The Chasm of Doubt

From a NaNoWriMo pep talk by N. K. Jemisin:

“We have to believe that we’re amazing—at least for a moment. At least enough to attempt this incredibly difficult thing. This is the peak of the creative drive.

But it’s hard to sustain that belief through the grind that is necessary to actually make the idea real. Our spirits fall. And at some point around the midpoint of the novel you’re invariably going to stop, look at what you’ve written—which will be a mess because in-progress novels are always a mess, that’s what creativity looks like and that’s what revision is for—and you’re going to recoil in horror. This is the nadir of the excitement you had felt when you started the novel, the opposite of the moment of amazing that spurred you to begin NaNoWriMo. This is the Chasm of Doubt.”

I’ve been peering at the chasm. I don’t write in a linear fashion. I look askance at the “beat sheet” posts that encourage people to write their story, not just in a linear fashion from A through B to C, but to hit particular notes each time. It seems such a creativity suck. I have more to say about that later.

Writing in a non-linear fashion is the only thing that has kept me going, but now I have what looks like hundreds of unsorted scenes. I had planned to have chapters mirroring the Fool’s Journey from the Tarot, which itself is similar to the Hero’s Journey. The story doesn’t neatly fit into those chapters though (again, more on the futility of forcing a story to fit a predefined template later). I stopped worrying and kept writing. I wrote 2k today leading up to one of the pivotal scenes, a scene I’ve long had planned (it actually existed in another form in another novel idea but it works so well here it’s where it belongs!) When my enthusiasm is up, I can write quickly. When I stop though and see the Things I Have Not Done it looks terrible.

It reminds me of the clearing out project I worked on during the summer (which made for little writing). I was clearing out clothes and books and needed new furniture which I had to wait for since it was being purchased for me as a gift and delivered to me. Every day I’d sort a drawer or more of clothes, or a shelf or more of books, or clean up a wall or replace a floor tile. I’d say “whose stupid idea was this?” when I was surrounded by boxes or bags or heaps of things to sort. At the end of about six hours of cleaning I’d have to clear things away as best as I could without new furniture to store them in, and I’d look at the mess, go take a shower and think “this will never be done” or “I’ve done so much, I can’t stop now.”

Eventually of course it was done. The project was well worth doing. My clothes are ones I actually wear and are tidier and easier to store and access. My books are neat and I can find a particular one if I want it. Everything is clean and refreshed.

It’s that point I’m at with the novel. If I focus on what I have done, recognise how many words I’ve written, reflect on what I’ve learnt about the characters, concentrate on scenes I want to write, I can keep going. If I reflect on the jigsaw puzzle that awaits me, if I think about the scenes I will need to write to join things up but I don’t know how/don’t want to write them yet, if I worry that 50k is nowhere near the finish for the first draft, well, there’s the chasm.

From the pep talk:

“If you’ve reached this point, you now have a choice: you can jump into that chasm, quit your novel, and wallow in how awful you are. Or you can veer away from the cliff. Doing so will be hard, because you’ve already built up the wrong kind of momentum. You’ll have to reverse engines and burn some extra fuel to break the inertia. You’ll have to climb back toward the peak, or at least reach a safe height. You might get back there a little late, but that’s okay. Better late than never.

And if it helps, remember: this is what makes you a writer. Yes, this. The sick feeling in your stomach, the weariness you feel, the utter conviction that you are the Worst and your novel is the Worst and everything is awful. This is how writers feel sometimes. (This is how everyone feels sometimes.) But writers do not let this feeling overwhelm them.”

That’s reassuring. That other writers feel this way, that everyone looks at the jumble and considers giving in. Unlike needing to finish tidying my clothes away, I could put the novel aside. But I don’t intend to give in. I’ll keep going until I reach the 50k, and then I’ll reassess where I’m at, where the novel is going, how I can begin to pull the pieces into a coherent narrative. (No doubt I will talk more about that!)

Writers, the pep talk says, know this feeling that it is the Worst, or as I might say, “whose stupid idea was this anyway?” But writers does not give in. That’s one of the lessons of NaNoWriMo. You don’t let yourself get bogged down in the detail. You push on, and push through. You revise later, but you write first.