My novel went on a “first date” yesterday. Metaphorically speaking.
What I mean is, it is in the process of being “courted” by a potential future editor, which is to say, my Brilliant Fiction Writer Friend™ (whom I’ve mentioned before in this blog), who, despite not being a fan of YA, has graciously, and generously, and kind of insanely agreed to read my NaNoWriMo novel Hecate Applebough because he believes in me as a serious writer (even a serious writer of fluff), and sight unseen is willing to work with me to revise it and maybe make it into something good (or good-ish).
I must admit I am in the absolute worst dither of insecurities about my writing ever. Like I’m back in my first creative writing class when I’m 20 years old, and so shy about what I’ve written that I really fear—not just that what I wrote is crappy (because that is surely a given)—but that I will have a) inflicted my mental crappiness/ drivel on another person; b) wasted someone’s already limited amount of leisure reading by forcing them to read something appalling (and deeply flawed on all levels); c) imposed on someone’s friendship, even when they offered, even when they are doing their best to wear me down to make me agree to continuing this part of the writing process (and I am deathly afraid of imposing on people, like pathologically so); and d) allowed someone to discover proof that I’m not nearly as hilarious and awesome as I think I am. (Perhaps that last fear on the list sounds trivial or frivolous, but I assure you, it’s a deeply-seated fear.)
It’s really a weird place to be in—like I believe in my ability as a poet. I might be having a shitty time convincing contest editors that my volume of poems is fantastic, the next best thing, blah blah, and they need to publish it already, goddammit, but I don’t doubt in any fiber of my being that I’m a poet. When I think “JC,” I think “poet.” These ideas fit in my head together, like synonyms. And sure, it makes sense—you think about all this time that I’ve worked on writing poetry, that I earned that Ph.D. in poetry—I mean, if I didn’t see myself as a poet after the time I’ve invested in it, that would be a huge (and annoying) problem. (And would make having to pay back student loans even more of an insult.)
Except, I don’t want to be just a poet. I have more words in my head than that. I’m not saying I believe BFWF that I’m a “novelist” either (just by virtue of having written 1.99 “novels”), but limiting myself to one version of “who I am as a writer” doesn’t fit me any more either. Of course, in terms of writing fiction—well, I still feel like I’m still 20 years old, with zero experience—but there’s an expansiveness that’s been coming the last few years, a real desire to try something new, and to tell stories that take more than a page.
That narrative bent in my writing and my voice is there—and let’s be honest, the poetry world does not appreciate narrative as a form. So, I need to use forms that narrative work in… which is why I wrote Hecate Applebough, which is why I also write these memoir-y vignettes that seem to find homes in little journals too. Hmm.
But getting back to the possibility of having a real reader/ editor: I was asked if I want to be worn down. That’s a hard question to answer. Like, realistically, who wouldn’t want a person you admire who is brilliant and has critical and practical expertise and proclaims a genuine wish to help you succeed to be the one who reads your book and helps you edit and revise it—the two hardest parts of writing? You’d have to be an idiot to turn that down—particularly when there is so little return in it for them.
(But to be fair, my idiocy is well-documented.)
As I’m thinking about this and talking myself in-and-out of this amazing opportunity that has shown up in my life like a late Christmas gift, I realize my fear isn’t anything like worry that I’m a “fraud” as writer. I don’t question I’m a writer, per se. Because there’s so much that goes into writing beyond the actual writing of whatever the piece is, you have to believe that you’re a writer deep down in your heart because if you don’t believe it, then what is the point of doing this really lonely, difficult (and often barely rewarding) work? Once a piece of writing is released into the world (and that’s after the writer has spent her time polishing her poem or story until it gleams) you can’t control the people who read it. If your submission (or your “novel”) shows up on a day that the editors/ grad students working on a journal are on the rag, or hungover, or pissed off at their bosses, or they hate anything that smacks of genre or narrative poetry or they just read a great bird poem right before they picked your bird poem up from the pile and so can’t imagine any bird poem after the one they just read as measuring up (or whatever), your writing, no matter how good it is, won’t go beyond the first pass. It might not even go beyond the first lines. (I say this as a person who has participated on the grad student side of the journal publication process.)
There’s so much luck involved in a person’s work entering the wider world by being published. And forget about the accolades. You have to believe you’re a writer—because the odds are so stacked against you that your work will ever resonate with anyone and find a home in their journal or on their upcoming publications list.
So it’s not a matter of lacking faith in myself as a writer (in the generic sense) that is the stumbling block with my sharing Hecate Applebough—the fear emerges from the realization of just how drafty the first draft is—and sharing a piece of my writing with someone that is 98% imperfect terrifies the fuck out of me.
Because when I share my poems with people, they only see them after—typically—the poem has gone through 8-10 drafts already. Like my writing group? I show them poems that are, to my mind, already mostly good. Poems after I meet with them may go through another 5-10 drafts, but when the writing group sees them initially, they don’t see the first draft. They see something I’m not ashamed to show.
First drafts are unfit to be seen by anyone. And Hecate Applebough is a first draft. I mean, it’s prettier than a first draft, in that I’ve line-edited it, I’ve changed some words here and there, or added a few scenes to smooth over some plot holes. But the aggregate is still first drafty. (It’s so drafty, it needs to wear a coat.) And sharing imperfection with someone, even someone as committed to helping me as BFWF is (someone who expects imperfection, moreover, so I’m not going to shock them), even someone who is my friend, is just one of my worst anxieties. It just seems so wrong—so contrary to my process. So naked.
And I guess I either need to get over myself and stop being so crippled by self-doubt and all this blather and take the opportunity because when the Universe wraps it in a bow, how stupid do you have to be to say no? Or I just need to STFU about this book and move on to the next thing and be satisfied with sabotaging myself (again) and learn to enjoy obscurity and blown chances.
(Ugh. When I put it like that, suddenly I think I must be pretty foolish to have spent 1400 words to realize I planned to say “Yes” all along.)
P.S. I know BFWF will have read this post (being one of my Five Faithful Readers). And BFWF will think “I knew it.” But I’m pretty sure, recognizing the kind of headcase I am, that I will change my mind at least 58 more times. Possibly more. So certainty tonight may shift back over into uncertainty many more times before I actually hand a copy of the book over. Fair warning.
P.S. #2 BFWF should in no way feel compelled to comment or to cheer me on. (This post is not a plea for more convincing.) Sometimes I blog just to take the edge off my neuroses.