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Do You Have the Courage to Write?

I'm about to box up the remnants of the research and outlines for a book that got to 47,000 words and was the most fun I have ever had writing anything. Ever.

 

Unfortunately, a major pivot is required for this piece of work and, after rescuing about 20,000 words, I have to call it quits on the project. I've been moping around about it, in mourning. Adrift.

 

And then I am reminded of something I have been wanting to tell a young writer friend: nothing in writing is ever wasted.

 

Dear Friend:

First and foremost, congratulations and welcome to the world of writers. You may be thinking "she doesn't know if I'm a good writer" or "I don't know if I'm a good writer" but that's beside the point. You have found your way of relating to the world: through the written word, through your imagination. It's a wonderful gift to know this about yourself when so many around you don't and having a passion like writing can give your life a purpose and direction that can keep you going even when almost everything else seems pointless.

 

But when we spoke last, you were throwing away all copies of your writing and I want to encourage you to hang on to them. Here's why:

You say that you throw them away because you don't want your parents to find them, but you can put a special password on the folder filled with your writing materials so that's not really an obstacle. I think just as daunting is that, in a way, you don't want to look at them yourself.

 

And I get that! I totally get that!

 

The best part of writing is the daydream, the invention of the imaginary world. The second-best part of writing is trying to translate that imaginary world into words, in the first draft.

 

Then comes the most difficult time of all: the incredible courage that it takes to sit down and tackle the second draft.

 

And writing takes more courage than most other things (speaking someone else's lines in a play; performing music you haven't written) because there are few things more personal than writing.

 

Facing a second draft, you have to give yourself permission to be imperfect; the editor inside you has to be kind to the writer inside you; you have to put yourself through the inevitable disappointment when you realize that all the giddy excitement and pride that goes into the imaginative first draft hasn't succeeded in creating perfection.

 

Some say that writing is rewriting because in rewriting you tap into the structure and craft of writing. But rewriting is harrowing, most definitely!! It's an act of self-acceptance, of compassion toward oneself, to muster the courage for the second draft. Courage is not the absence of fear, as they say, but the strength to proceed in the face of fear. It takes courage every day, every page, to write, and the sooner you develop it, the better off you'll be because...

 

Writing will always require courage, no matter how many books you publish or awards you win.

 

Of course, there are practical reasons to hang onto your work: you can use it in your schoolwork. Let's say you write five pages of a story set in the undersea world. Next week in biology class you take what you've written and create a little synopsis for a cover sheet that says, "Life Under the Waves is an excerpt showing the importance of tackling climate change blah blah blah." It doesn't matter whether the piece is finished or not, it's an excerpt. By tying it back to classroom schoolwork you can get extra credit which might bolster your grades on the rest of your class work. Now that you know writing is your favorite tool, think of ways it can help you with other things that you're not as fond of.

 

But I think the most important reason to hang on to everything is because nothing is ever wasted in writing. A phrase, an idea, the way the light looks through a certain window, all of these ideas and explanations are things that can be used in another setting, another piece. I keep a document called Fragments on my hard drive where I am able to put snippets of descriptions or story ideas that I want to get down. I prefer this to putting them in my personal journal because I don't want to slog through a bunch of whining about the state of the world when I'm looking for a story idea. And when I'm working on a particular piece, I have another document called Outtakes which is where I put all of the things that I've stripped out of the first draft so that it's handy if I want to reinsert some things. It also comforts me to know that while I have taken it out, I have not lost it altogether.

 

So please, have compassion for yourself, muster your courage, and welcome to the harrowing world of fiction.

 

Now, bolstered by my advice to my young friend, but with a heavy heart, I will box up the project, take a deep breath, and begin something new.

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