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.