Faith is a word whose meaning has changed over the years for me. Not too long ago, it took on a whole new meaning. We are not talking about the kind of thing most folks are talking about when they talk about faith here. This is a blog for authors, and writers who want to become authors; and we writers have to have our own brand of faith. It has only been a little while now that I have had what I would call an author’s faith. In it’s own way, it has come to mean as much to me as the other kind.
I won’t go into the details that delight some and bore others, and talk about the other kind; at least, not here. You can check out my first book, ‘Stumbling Backasswards Into The Light’, if you want that from me. Or, wait for the sequel. It’s coming, finally, in 2017. Mid to late, I’d say. But enough about that.
A writer has to have faith to become an author. It’s simple. We don’t need to have faith in a higher power or anything, although it helps to have something other than a mirror to shake your fist at; we do, however, have to have faith in ourselves. The only way for a writer to become an author is to spend gads of time doing that thing they do, in a more organized fashion than they ever have. Without faith, there is no reason to sit down that first day. The second and the third are just plain out of the question, and they don’t even constitute a legitimate good start when you put them in. It takes faith in yourself to set aside that time, and write that book; with so much of your life happening when you’re face is fixated on some kind of notepad, you better believe in what you’re writing.
But that’s another kind of faith altogether.
The main inspiration for this post is the thing that keeps happening, whenever I write a book. Usually I stay right on schedule, and fill the pages steadily over time. At some point, though, things always get a little dicey. The outline has not accounted for something, or was just painted with strokes that were a bit too broad. It was easy to get from point A to point B, and from there to C and D; but I’m stuck somewhere between S and T, and I can only think of two letters to bridge the gap and properly express the way I feel. That’s not enough; I need a couple thousand words!
When I was writing my first book, I spent way more time not writing than I spent writing. That sounds obvious, if you know that I had a full-time job at the time. But that’s not what I mean; when it came time to write, I found all kinds of reasons not to. Even writing time was spent staring at an empty page more often than it was spent filling it. That initial story may have been about faith, in its own way; but I demonstrated a sad lack of faith in the story itself for the longest time. I was terrified that once I wrote something I couldn’t un-write it, which was just dumb; I was writing in pencil at the time, and un-writing is also referred to as erasing. Once I learned that lesson, I became terrified that the last sentence in the book may not go with the first, or be properly foreshadowed by it; that froze me in place even longer. How could I write the first sentence without knowing what the last one would be? And what about all those sentences in between? They have to fit perfectly too!
Perfection…that is what any personality test I take harps on constantly. It took about a second to understand that the first draft of a book is never something to expect perfection from. It took quite a bit longer to accept that, and get started writing. It helped that life was happening as well; I was learning to be more present and accountable in my own life, and there’s no better analogy for building a good life than writing a good book.
Just kidding; there are way better analogies. I know.
My big problem has always been the same, when it comes to moving confidently forward in any direction: I want to know every step along the way, and have a clear picture of the last step, before I take that first step. I need to know that any journey that I am going to undertake will be worth the undertaking. It’s why I spent most of my twenties deep in thought or with my nose buried in a book, and why it took so long for me to write my first book.
That’s not how life works, though. It’s definitely not how stories work, at least for me. Getting to know a story is like getting to know a person, times however many people there are featured in the story. I don’t get to know someone by chatting for five minutes, but I get to know them a little. It’s the same with my stories: I have to sit with them, for long stretches, and get to know them. After awhile, I’m ready to start outlining. Then, I really start to get to know these characters and this story. By the time I write the last chapter in the outline, I am either chomping at the bit to start writing or I have given in and started already.
With #NaNoWriMo approaching as I write this post, you can bet I am chomping at that bit.
The stories get written in the order that they get selected, for me; there are dozens of characters that show up to the round table meetings in my head, and dozens that walk away looking all dejected each time a meeting is adjourned. It’s a foregone conclusion, sometimes, when I’ve been gravitating toward something in particular in my thought. Usually, I hear everyone’s case and decide after due deliberation.
It’s kind of like choosing who you’ll spend the next year in a relationship with based on who had the most compelling pitch at one of those speed dating events. They put on their best face at the meeting, then show their true colors when the rubber meets the road.
Which brings us back to where we started, wondering how the hell this idea could have seemed so great when there was obviously something really important missing. That’s where faith comes in, once again, to remind the author that this is not all about them. Put more succinctly, it’s not really about them at all. I mean, it’s up to me to put everything I have into writing and editing and standing behind whatever I write; but these stories are only mine in that they are shown to me, and I get to tell them. My name on the cover of a book means that I was the one chosen to tell this story, and that I took the time to tell it.
The muse doesn’t want credit, in my experience; what she does want is a little private acknowledgement, and a good laugh every once in a while. I treat my author’s faith like I treat my other faith, and keep my thoughts on both mostly to myself. When I got halfway through my second book, I had to sit myself down and ask myself where the hell I thought I was going with this book. I didn’t know, but I somehow knew that I had to keep at it. I learned then that sometimes I need to write like mad and sometimes I need to step away and sit with the story or its characters before I go on. Sometimes I need to write a chapter completely wrong, see where it should have gone as I wrap it up, and rewrite it without anyone knowing.
There’s no question that the stories that come to me have something to say that I will delight in writing. If they didn’t fit me, they wouldn’t come to me. It took writing several of them to finally relax when that fateful moment came, mid-book.
“Oh, shit,” I said, throwing up my hands as I flipped through the outline for ‘The Last Zombie’. “What happens between here and there?”
At least I had figured out how to get from S to T.
Then I laughed, shook my fist at the sky lovingly and set about courting the muse. Yeah, lady; I know I am completely dependent on you. But you know what? I’m okay with that. Are you okay with being totally dependent on me, at least to tell this story? Good, let’s do this.
Embracing the reality of an author’s faith has been a quietly dramatic and very personal experience for me. It has taken my relationships with both my books and the muse to a whole new level, as I look forward to discovering the hidden gems that await my future writing. I don’t worry about whether or not they’re there, or precious; I know with every fiber of my being that they are both.
All I need to do is have faith, and keep writing.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,