“I think you should write another book,” my mother said to me the other day when I started to whine about the long winter days with nothing fun to do. In fact, I almost uttered the “B” word, that one which never passes my lips. (Bored? Me?? Hardly.)
“Well, it’s not that simple,” I replied a bit peevishly. “It takes a lot of work to write a book from scratch."
“I’m sure it does,” she replied. “But you’ve already done it once, I imagine you could do it again if you really wanted to."
I opened my mouth to answer back, then closed it again. She was right, of course. Darn mothers anyway, always knowing their stuff like that.
I could do it If I Really Wanted To.
In my very small way, I’ve been stricken with second book syndrome. Life In General turned out to be a surprising and gratifying little success. And although I’ve had ideas for another book gnawing at me for a couple of years, and had plans to commence working on it as soon as Life In General was out in the world, I haven’t made a dent in it. Truth? I’m afraid. Afraid this one won’t turn out as well. Afraid to start from the beginning. Afraid of the kinds of things I might have to confront in order to tell this story. Afraid I don’t have the talent or the self discipline it takes to tell it at all.
Perhaps a more appropriate title for this post would be On Fear.
Fear and Desire are yoked together in my writing world these days. It reminds of times when I’m walking the dogs and they are out ahead of me at the end of their long leashes - suddenly they will pull up right against one another, their sides actually rubbing, and walk for 100 feet or so as if stuck to each other with velcro. Then one of them (usually Magic) will pull away and take the lead and leave the other behind. But for a moment it’s as if they need the security of being side-by-side on this adventure, of knowing the other one is there.
Fear is not always unhealthy. Knowing what we’re afraid of helps have the strength to overcome it. But Desire. Well that is the fuel for every fire, be it making a book, falling in love, raising a child, painting a room, cooking a meal.
You have to Want It. Really Want It.
Beth Kephart, whose book Handling the Truth is my study guide these days, reminds me that “we can only write toward our obsession.” In her blog post the other day, she describes thinking about a new book as a “strange existence of wading through the formidable dark toward a fledgling, heartbreaking story.”
It can’t be about Fear. It must be about Desire. Compulsion. Obsession. An itch to tell the story. “The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper - whether little or great, it belongs to literature.” (Sarah Orne Jewett). It’s not only a willingness but a need to wander into the forest of memory and experience and truth.
So I need to turn those fearful thoughts on their head, pull them away from my side where they’ve been rubbing me the wrong way and holding me back. Let Desire take the lead. Scratch that itch to tell a story, the one that’s been teasing me every since I was a little girl. Let myself be obsessed with it.
Really Want It.
And then Do It.