Today, I did something I’ve dreaded doing for the last month. I took down the haphazard book outline of my novel, “The Bridge.” Twenty-nine recipe cards with scenes connected to Beatle song titles numbered and taped up on my giant square glass board on my office wall.
Another story, another failure, another notch made in my soul. Not that I’m giving up entirely on the story, just that I’m putting it away because I couldn’t do anything with it in the last several months (again).
The purpose of the glass drilled permanently into my office wall is a physical place to write out or stick ideas of a book. Most times, it’s a bleak window into attempts that failed–bits of ideas that I’ve worked on for months and have to take down or erase before I can move on to something else. Moving on has taken on a feeling of failure and avoidance and not progression.
“I don’t know why I can’t finish writing a book,” I’ll whine to Brian.
“It’s because you’re afraid,” he says, “It’s paralysis by analysis. Programmers do it all the time.”
It’s the same conversation we’ve had a billion times, and my office bookshelf lined with white plastic three-ringed binders stuffed full of short story ideas and partial fiction proves him correct.
“I’m such a loser,” is what I usually say.
“No, you’re not,” he’ll say back, “You just have to fight through your fears.” And I’m mad at him every single time for saying so because I know he’s right, and that just downright bugs me.
I don’t know how to fight through that fear. I don’t know how to continuously pick at a scab, knowing the cost of the scar. What if I fight through it, finish a novel, and then discover that I’m a terrible writer, and nobody will read my stuff? Or worse, what if I’m not a writer, and I’ve just been playing like I am for my entire life?
My story ideas always start the same. I get a kernel, a small concept that sits in my brain and points out how great it is. The longer the idea sits around, the more energetic it feels. I get obsessed, giddy, amazed by myself. It’s a shiny object dangling on a dark horizon, drawing in my whole mind, heart, and soul.
Everything I do then becomes about fleshing out this concept. I wake up in the middle of the night with another idea that bolsters the first. I might hear the distinct voice of the main character walking me through a scene. I can picture the inside of a house in the story and feel the emotion of a townsperson walking down the street of this universe blooming in my head. I’ll begin to frantically write out the beginings of the story in a college ruled notebook. I think it works! I know I’ve got something fantastic!
I get so excited that I can scarcely sit down and tap out these things on my computer and see in on the screen.
And then something happens. I’m not sure what exactly. The shiny object starts to dull, and I search for other ideas, other concepts to strengthen it, to bring back its luster. One alternate idea turns into another and another until I’m spinning, going in no particular direction.
That distinctive voice I heard so clearly has grown quiet. The inside image of the house in the story turns into a stock photo, something everyone has seen before, nothing special, nothing new. The emotion of the fictional townsperson walking down the street is weak, numb. I’m worried. I begin crossing out the original story in my college ruled notebook. I write notes in the margins, cryptic words that point to only one thing. I’m starting to fail. Again.
I get so concerned that I can scarcely sit down and tap out new things on my computer and dread seeing them on my screen.
I stop looking at the recipe cards taped up on my glass board or avoid reading anything written across them.
Then, I know the story is dead (for the time being), and I’m depressed that I had ever thought I might have a chance to do something with it, to become a writer at all. LOSER. LOSER. LOSER—whispers inside my head, implants in my heart, and nicks tiny slices out of my soul.
That’s what I’m most afraid of about Glenna’s story. The failure to follow through due to the lack of information or the lack of my ability. Fear of feeling that anesthesia-like numbness that comes when I hit a roadblock and can’t go any further, no matter how hard I beat my head against a brick wall.
I don’t want Glenna’s story to become another idea stuck inside a plastic three-ring binder. I don’t want her essence stashed on my bookshelf next to “The Bridge” or any of the others. I don’t want to let down my Aunts and Uncles, my cousins and siblings invested in what I find out about our relative. I don’t want to let myself down, not again.
The recipe cards outlining “The Bridge,” the one I started again for the third time last January, I took down today. I replaced it with a scattering of yellow and purple Post-it notes or temporary musings, an attempt to shape Glenna’s story into something book-like.
At the top and middle of my glass board, I stuck a yellow Post-it and wrote, “Book Points.” Underneath are random purple notes”with topics and ideas like, “Who was Glenna?” “What are our parallels?” “Car crashes: how many road accidents were there, and could one be Glenna’s?” “Prohibition” is on another, and “Newspaper Archives” fills yet another.
Off to the side of the sea of purple, I have two yellow notes titled, “Research: who do I call to ask about psychiatric practices in the 1930s, 40s, 50s? Any books to read? Any experts to seek out?”
“Research: How do I incorporate all the info into an interesting book? Is this a biography or a memoir?”
It occurs to me that all these little notes are a sure way to stop my progression cold. It is paralysis by analysis, again, paralyzing me into a metaphoric fetal position.
I’m scared. I don’t know what I’m doing. I worry I can’t make sense out of Glenna’s life and I won’t be able to give her a story and make her life count.
I’m addressing my fears, writing them out, saying them out loud, and putting them in print so that I can get going, and move forward. Hopefully, by doing this, by stating my fears publicly, I can do what I feel so compelled to do, once and for all!