Recently I sat at my desk surrounded by my icons of hope, messages to self urging perseverance, and restraint on the potato chips – yes, I have several – waiting to hear back from my critique group. I had sent them a few chapters I’d written, rewritten and bled on fourteen times (at least) and noticed a disturbance in my usually undisturbed psyche. It wasn’t exactly fear, more like dread stomping around, poking my more sensitive spots. Rattling my self confidence and reasons for living. What if I still hadn’t nailed it? What if it reeks of incompetence? What if they don’t laugh at that scene with the wombat?
It struck me that this writing path has been strewn with similar scary moments. Many, many similar moments. If I wasn’t agonizing over the pothole of character development, I was in the pit of despair over the plot. But nothing was quite as scary, the white knuckles over the keyboard kind of scary, as the beginning. Sitting with the path stretching ahead, lit by inspiration and smoothed by an excitement to get to know my characters better, and seeing just how long it was. Very long, with shadows and hairline cracks - a possible rolling boulder up at that corner way, way ahead – and did I mention how steep it was? How far exactly I had to traipse uphill, one word at a time? And as soon as I hit dirt, the ground buckled.
I suppose once I got past the start and onto a level stretch, my scary moments were fewer. There were only little obstacles, rocks on the road, like conflict, tension and passive verbs. A bit of bother with the dialogue and that pesky character who wanted to take the lead. My MC refused to be developed at one point, but that only took three years to fix. I sat at an impasse for two months while I tried to get past the middle which, strangely, had become a bog. Thankfully that scary episode ended happily. I shovelled out a ton of codswallop before I found a side road leading in a new direction that had good solid paving. It came to an abrupt end at a cliff which threw me into renewed panic - until I realized that all I had to do was go back twelve miles and learn to make a rope ladder, one strand at a time. I wiped the cold sweat off my upper lip over that one and made a note to Self to never repeat it.
It was definitely a sick kind of scary that swamped me when I started my edits and found I had ambled through whole chapters taking some weird, bland and unmarked detour. Fixing it was the most terrifying experience of my life (bar the time I made the mistake of sitting at the very back of a roller coaster that had nothing more than a flimsy little handle to hold onto. No harness, straps or bars. Just a thin, measly metal handle with a screw loose and the flesh of the last rider’s palms stuck to it).
All told, I lost three pounds and wore out a pair of sneakers pounding the streets trying to come up with solutions. Then, I put on ten pounds rewriting it with all the comfort food I needed to get over the whole scary experience. And the end? I’m not even going to go there. It’s too frightening. Almost as bad as the roller coaster.
So, as I kill time here, stabbing my eraser and planning the sequel, how about telling me what your scariest part of the writing process is? It might help us all muster the courage to face another daunting project.