by Jeffrey J. Michaels
The quiet is pervasive. Usually you are distracted by so many noises that it is difficult to concentrate on your Craft, your Profession, your burgeoning Career of being a Published Author. But you have closed every window, shut every door, scolded and cajoled every member of the family to silence and peace, including the dog. The only one that appreciates this is the cat, who now is supine across your keyboard, but even this rascal will tolerate being moved as long as it is only to your lap and you offer occasional worship via gentle petting. Now you can really get some work done! Now you can hit that self-imposed, read it in a book, heard it from a Successful Author word count! NOW, Now, now you have a blank screen, staring at you unblinking, unnervingly, daring you to be great. Go ahead, I double dog dare you! Be brilliant right now! Write! NOW!
And you cannot even begin to remember the names of the characters you so carefully created out of whole cloth over the last year. Your outline seems to be written in Greek and you only speak Latin. The storyline is apparently that of Huck Finn complete with your heroes traveling down a river in search of gold, or love, or to stop the terrorists, or solve the mystery of the missing tea cozy…What? Tea cozy? You are an idiot. A complete fool who is no longer to be allowed to walk the streets in public. There is nothing brilliant about any of this mess and you are a fool on a fool’s errand. You dare not let anyone see the dreck you haven’t even bothered to write yet…
You, my friend, are not a fool, an idiot, a reprobate, a mug, chump, or dupe. You are simply, like many writers, afraid. It is not that you lack talent. It is not the noise of others or the lack of noise. It is that there is noise in your head that sabotages your motion. It is the single thing that stops writers from ever completing a manuscript. And you are not alone, you only believe you are. John Cleese said, “Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”
Nothing attributes to the fear of making a mistake more than the desire to be perfect the first time. Ego-driven writers will want their first draft to be viewed as pristine art. And most of us are ego driven when we first begin. We lose that ego through a scary process called revision and critique. But first is the scary first draft. This is where we make every mistake in the book (Get it? “In the Book,” right? Nudge, nudge.)
If you believe that only first time writers get this fear of the blank page, you are mistaken. It is an easy mistake to make when you see certain authors turning out a book a year, or in some cases multiple books a year, and they are selling and speaking and having a great life drinking mojitos on the beach while they dictate brilliantly into a recording device which is hooked up via magic to a computer in a manly, brass-riveted, leather-furnitured, oak-paneled office or a sunny, glassed-in, feminine, garden-engulfed solarium, and the words spew forth from the mystically created document into a printer that never jams and always has full cartridges and no one, NO ONE, ever changes a word of the successful author’s pure unadulterated genius.
Do not be deluded. Red ink is copiously used by ALL successful writers, specifically because they want to be successful. Yes, at first sight it does look like blood and suspiciously like your type, but a little bleeding is necessary in life. You must fall and skin your knees as a child before you walk and run. (Don’t even get me started on the head wounds I suffered as a child learning to ride a bike! Head trauma is probably the root cause of the voices in my head!)
We never are perfect, especially the first time out. In the seeking of perfection we again hobble ourselves. Repeat after me, “Perfect is the enemy of finished.”
Deep breath, my anxiety-ridden writerly friend. Just write. It will suck. Don’t worry about it. Robert Kiyosaki said, “Don’t waste a good mistake, learn from it.” No one needs to see your first draft or the second or third. Feel that fear and do it anyway! The scariest part is yet to come!
Somewhere in time you will find it necessary to gain a support group of equally fearful folk who are seeking validation of their own efforts and want someone to recognize that they are geniuses waiting to be discovered. They band together in an insecure, self-defensive, ever-morphing form and call themselves a Critique Group (from the Old French for “Those who drink wine and comment endlessly on things they know little about”).
Here within this village of those seeking to not be perceived as idiots you will receive opinions. Now I will tell you that the word EGO comes from the self-improvement, motivational-speaker wisdom that Everyone’s Got Opinions. Equally I will point out that FEAR is an acronym that means False Expectations Already Realized. Or maybe it is Fail Early And Respond (responsibly).
The point is that a first draft finished is farther than most people ever get. And a second peer-reviewed draft and a third show that you are serious about the process. Your Process. The word process sounds like progress if you squint and look at it with your head tilted. Writing a book is all about progress, not perfection.
Critique groups. Never pleasant, always necessary. In a critique group you will hear your words as others do and you will, if you are in a semi-balanced and mostly sane critique group, hear how others think you can improve your work. In other words, their ego will confront your ego. And they will be in the same position of vulnerability because they too will be presenting their deathless prose for you to cast an opinion upon. Give good feedback and accept whatever feedback you receive, but do not internalize either. You are the creator of your story and the final arbiter of its worth.
At least until you publish. Then the audience, the terrifying, ravening hordes of readers hungry to be entertained and amused will cast their eyes on your painstakingly crafted document of 50,000 to 100,000 meticulously crafted words and some will say, “I can write better than that!” but you, YOU are an AUTHOR and they are mere wannabe’s sitting alone in front of a computer screen with an unblinking white light awaiting their first words and daring them to be brilliant.
ACKKK! You mean random strangers who I have never met will be able to write their own ego-based reviews and publish them for the ENTIRE WORLD to read! But I should explain my story to them before they read it! Maybe one more revision…
Sorry buckaroo. Published you are and it is time to move on to the next. The one you wanted to write all your life. The Great American Novel. NO! The Next GLOBAL Blockbuster Bestseller! And as you sit down to write your next book (and the next and on and on), that soon-to-be-familiar creeping dread begins to grow. For you face the next Scary First Draft.
Jeffrey J. Michaels is a Gemini. As such he is deeply involved in whatever interests him at the moment. His describes his book A Day at the Beach and Other Brief Diversions as “metaphyictional,” combining fantasy and humor with metaphysical elements. He is currently polishing a sweeping fantasy series of interconnected tales collectively known as The Mystical Histories. It is varied enough that he says he may even finish most of the stories. In his real life he is a well-respected creative and spiritual consultant. He does not like to talk about his award winning horror story.