i have a confession

by Michael Lockhart

I’ve been more aware than usual lately that I tend to work my way around things obliquely before I actually tackle them head on. I allude to a lot of things for a long time until I screw up the courage, or find the right time, or my self-imposed defensive orbit just degrades to the point that I fall into the gravity well. Directly talking about writing –  that I write and that I want to be a writer, like for a living – is one of them.

It’s time I come clean.

The story, the one I’m trying to tell right now, is a giant, massive beast of an epic fantasy. The manuscript, as I work deep into the second draft, sits just a bit over 200,000 words, and it’s the first of the at least four volumes I believe it will take to tell the whole tale. This alone might make it a cumbersome thing to try to get published, and sometimes I wonder if I’ve written it this way, on this scale, to make it harder for myself. I do that sometimes, like exaggerating the dream of being a writer: I make it so big that I don’t have to worry about it ever being more than a dream because it’s so unrealistic.

But it is realistic. The story is alive to me. I think I’d read it and fall in love with the landscapes and cultures, the heroes and anti-heroes and complicated antagonists, their foibles and demons and dreams, and the messed up realities that they have to face and overcome to try to make things fit. I want it to work as a great story, one that people can escape into as a pure adventure. I want people to read and be there, and feel what the characters feel, and wish it would never end.

I also have hubristic aspirations. I want the story, the way I tell it, to work on more levels than just as a story. I desire it to be like my favorites, with nuances and insights and things below the surface worth digging for, things that come up for air between the plot lines and dialog, or that reveal themselves only through a process of erosion. I want it to measure up to the tales I loved – the genre and non-genre ones – that broke me open and made my world a bigger place and challenged me in tragic and beautiful ways to see the world exactly the way it is and still be a dreamer. To know the truth and still dream.

But I’m still afraid of that dream in fundamental ways too. It’s so precious to me, has been for so long, that the thought of trying and failing paralyzes me sometimes. I have a fear of failure and have had it for a long, long time. I fear that it will simply be not good enough to publish. Or worse, that I will not be sufficient to the aspiration; that I’ll betray my characters and fail to tell their stories properly. That I’ll let them and the story down. It’s the breathstopping fear of letting the story down that paralyzes me the most.

That’s a danger with dreams; sometimes they take on such mythic proportions that we’re afraid to approach them, afraid that we won’t be up to that challenge, and afraid that failing will mean we were never meant to own the dream in the first place. That’s my biggest fear by far.

I need to get obsessive and just finish it. As Sugar would say, I need to finally rip this second beating heart out of me. Because I write, I’m a writer, and there are stories to tell.

And I need to do it before my hands blow away.

It feels good to get that off my chest. Thanks for bearing witness.

Excerpted from Michael’s original post published at thinking out loud, 11/7/10


I write, climb, study ki-aikido and yoga, love dogs AND cats, write some more, hate the system of the world most days and yet, somehow, remain hopeful. My debut novel manuscript is nearing completion at somewhere around 180,000 words. I’m looking forward to receiving the first rejections later this spring, not because I doubt the story – just because it’s part of the process. I loiter on Twitter under the name @tolthinkfree and think out loud one or more times a week at thinking out loud.

8 Responses to i have a confession
  1. Lois
    January 13, 2011 | 1:59 PM

    180,000?!?!?! Wow! I have a hard time reaching 100k! I admire you. I really, really do!

    I’ve often said that I fear success, but I think I fear failure just as much. Thank you for sharing your fear, your hopes, and dreams!

    • Michael Lockhart
      January 13, 2011 | 2:49 PM

      I’m not entirely sure 180k is an accomplishment or an anchor. And sharing was my pleasure – thank you for reading!

  2. j
    January 13, 2011 | 8:08 PM

    For some reason, I love “And I need to do it before my hands blow away.”

    You seem pretty superhero-y to me. I’ve been at my 90(ish)k manuscript for longer than you’ve been at your 180k epic fantasy. I’m hoping my cape will distract everyone from the obvious sad comparison here.

  3. Michael Lockhart
    January 13, 2011 | 8:43 PM

    I’m betting that your mss is just far more dense, well written and revised, and less full of rambling (yet vivid) descriptions of wilderness, mountains, magic, and fight scenes that run for six pages at a time. But I’m just guessing. 🙂

    But for the remarkable Super-j to say so kind of means the world to me.

  4. Boonies Chick
    Twitter: fearofwriting
    January 14, 2011 | 11:14 AM

    Michael, thank you for agreeing to share this excerpt with us. I’ve read it numerous times and each time it blows me away as much as it did when I first read it on your site. I love your honesty, the passionate descriptions of your story, the level of fear you have for your child that shows how much you care. And I love this confession for expressing one of my biggest fears:

    “It’s the breathstopping fear of letting the story down that paralyzes me the most.”

    I feel that every time I start a writing session. Fortunately, I soon get lost in the writing and the story itself shows me there’s no need to be paralyzed. But knowing you feel this same fear felt so utterly reassuring to me. Thank you.

    • Michael
      January 14, 2011 | 2:11 PM

      You are most welcome, Milli. And thank you. What you and J do here, what you’ve been doing for the last ten years, is huge, huge, huge. I’m pretty honored to contribute.

  5. Julie
    January 14, 2011 | 12:57 PM

    The four words that stood out for me on this post:

    “Screw up the courage” – because boy, do both meanings apply to writing.

    You have to pull everything you’ve got in your self-esteem bank to put yourself out there. Be beyond brave. And courageous.

    And then, you still are afraid. You screw it up, so to speak. And let yourself doubt.

    And I don’t mean “You” of course. I mean “us.” We writers.

    So I feel your pain. And I’m currently screwing up the courage, too.

    Both ways.

    Let’s keep screwing up together.

    • Michael
      January 14, 2011 | 2:14 PM

      Hmm, I wasn’t even going for the double meaning at the time, but it does apply.

      This, “Let’s keep screwing up together.”, made me laugh. And, for some reason, reminded me of Stephen Elliott…

Leave a Reply

Wanting to leave an <em>phasis on your comment?