I used to think that growth only happened in a straight line and that as long as I wrote every day eventually I’d reach a point where it wasn’t so hard anymore and I’d have the answer to every question and enough experience and insight to crank out amazing works of art in half the time. But something strange has happened during the writing of my 7th novel, something terrifying and totally unexpected.
Like big time.
I used to have the bad habit of going back and editing during a first draft, which was tedious and made the process exponentially longer. But it also yielded pretty solid first drafts that I was actually really proud of. So many things have changed since those days. My style is a bit less lyrical and the stories I write are more plot-driven; I also no longer stop to edit (or sometimes even think) during the writing of a first draft, three things that have inadvertently made me a much faster writer. But now that I find myself on the other end of the “self-editing” spectrum and have become an expert at beating my inner critic into silent submission, I’m wondering if her two cents might actually have some value after all.
Learning to end the cycle of self-doubt and self-loathing that plagues every writer, especially during the writing of a first draft, is important but for me personally, writing without any fear or reservations is a recipe for disaster. And let me tell you, this manuscript is definitely a disaster. I’ve been working on it during my time away from my YA series and after finally reaching the halfway point, I’ve never been more disappointed in myself. The idea itself has potential, so at least that much is salvageable, but when I read back through what I have so far, I don’t recognize myself in any of it. It’s so bare that my voice has nothing to cling onto, which means that neither will my readers. I was shocked at first at how terrible it actually was, not to mention on the verge of panic, but it made me wonder if maybe I was overreacting (something I tend to do on a daily basis). And I also started to wonder if maybe what I was experiencing was actually normal.
Life isn’t linear. It may seem that way but the truth is life is messy and crooked and there are more valleys than there are peaks. Creativity works the same way. It’s fluid and always changing and progress doesn’t happen all at once or all in one direction. I still believe that writing every day is the only way to truly improve but I also believe that setbacks can happen any time, regardless of how solid of a writer you are. I’ve grown out of a lot of bad habits in the past few years but unfortunately I’ve also adopted some new ones, proof that you never stop learning or growing or changing for the better or for the worse. Because in life there is no finish line and there is no perfection. Everything we are and everything we do is a work in progress and failure itself is a big a part of that progress. Because we’re not molded or strengthened by the things that coddle us, but we’re molded by the things that hurt, by the hard things and the scary things. The things that break us. Because it’s only the broken that can be mended and it’s only the broken that can be made new.