No doubt, killing demons
But will I?
I’ve successfully completed this writing challenge the past three years, doing massive amounts of planning prior to each project’s start. Yet, I am completely unprepared for 2021. I’ve struggled for months to write anything beyond the borders of my freelance writing projects, which help pay my bills.
Why am I not motivated?
Health issues in my family. Lack of creativity. Super busy. I might even cry “writer’s block,” which we tortured artists pull out and trot around the desk, on occasion. Though each excuse contains a grain of truth, the real conflict stems from someone close to me … we’ll call them Doubt … unwittingly making me question if killing my personal demons — one character at a time on a plain, white piece of paper — is worthwhile.
Doubt suggested I seek counseling to move beyond my difficult past, which admittedly, colors all of my present relationships. I told Doubt I considered my writing a form of creative therapy.
I also told Doubt I was proud of my not-yet-published women’s fiction manuscript. My novel, which I wrote the bones of during my first NaNo challenge almost three years ago, fictionalizes some of my most raw, painful memories. My life experiences wrap around each character like a second skin. After I finished the month-long challenge and recovered from the emotion of it all, I spent over a year editing my work. I went through a series of beta readers and edited again. The end result, almost double in length, looks nothing like my real life. However, my past experiences — good and bad — certainly serve as its backbone.
I’ve been sending it out to agents for months, I told Doubt.
“Yeah? How’s that working out for you?” Doubt threw back, like the frigid spray of lake water on a summer’s day.
Doubt’s doubt has been on my mind 24/7, ever since. My personal demons, of which I have struggled to let go, helped create the resilient person I am today. Like it or not, those same demons have also impacted the lives of those around me. At the crux of the argument was Doubt’s point that my past has held me back from breaking a cycle of hurt in my family. Counseling may be a more productive way to move on.
I respect that point. I might even agree with it. Like many writers, I had a difficult youth. I was an only child from a split family. Bullied by my peers, I was embarrassed by my garage sale jeans and home-sewn dresses, tried to hide my larger than average nose with makeup, suffered daily from low self-esteem and a complete lack of “cool,” looked for my estranged father in every adult male role model, and, like many teen daughters, I equally loved and, at times, “hated” my well-meaning but overprotective mother.
Tortured, I tell ya’. Large or small, real or imagined, my struggles felt insurmountable at the time. I cared way too much about all of them.
It wasn’t until long after college, after building a freelance writing business, working as a journalist and earning my keep through my nonfiction writing, that I allowed myself to begin to heal through my writing. I wrote “slice of life” personal essays for my own column in a Pittsburgh paper, and, eventually, I jumped into NaNoWriMo fiction writing.
Fiction writing has become an escape from reality but also a healthy, cathartic reminder of just that.
Many of the childish demons with whom I grew up pour from my memories into the characters I sometimes “kill,” lovingly and with finality, in their telling. Bringing back to life and sending those harmless, fictional demons to their final papery grave, every November, brings me a degree of peace and a huge dose of perspective. Such writing allows me to dull the edges of my painfully sharp backstory, because I am in control. I decide my characters’ actions and reactions. I orchestrate if the pretty high school nemesis gets a payback at the 20-year class reunion. It is my choice whether the hot guy ends up with the awkward artist, if the estranged father attends his daughter’s wedding, if the dream job becomes reality, if the mother tells her child to never come back. I decide if the main character chooses to forgive.
“How’s that working out for you?”
Doubt’s comment left me numb for days. At the time, my interest in doing NaNoWriMo a fourth consecutive year all but evaporated. I was unable to sleep, rolling the words around in my head like marbles — Aggies and Corkscrews and Cat’s Eyes tumbling from one end of my skull to the other.
“How’s that working out for you?”
Not well, on the face of it. The query trenches have been daunting. Despite several requests for the full manuscript, I’m not headed to the bestseller list anytime soon, and I had always thought I was okay with that. I thought going through the process was what was important, not whether my work was ultimately published. Fictionalizing my personal story was a way to come to terms with my past. That was my success.
Until Doubt set in.
Though I don’t think Doubt intended it, I suddenly questioned myself and my ability. For months, I avoided writing anything more than I needed to for work. I didn’t plan for NaNoWriMo 2021, because, well, what would be the point?
Let the self-pity commence. Doubt made me do it. It’s all Doubt’s fault.
But it’s not.
Doubt cannot be the excuse. Doubt, ultimately, cannot be to blame. I must take ownership.
The time for Doubt has passed. Publishable or not, I’ve decided I will hop back into that NaNoWriMo chair tomorrow, Nov. 1, because, frankly, not doing the challenge in 2021 would feel like the demons won.
It would feel like Doubt won.
That’s not okay with me, so tomorrow I begin. What’s my project? No idea. But 50,000 words in 30 days is something I’ve done before. I can do it again, and there are so many reasons to try, not least of which is the therapy, real or imagined, that I gain from my own creativity. Sorry, Doubt. I may not be in a place where I want to bare my soul to a therapist. Maybe I should be. Probably I should be.
Maybe I’ll never be.
But at least I feel peace, and even pride, in pouring my hurt (and doubt) onto the page. A career in fiction may well elude me. I may never be published, but I will write on. Support me or not, Doubt, but my success is in having killed some demons along the way … in the only way I know how.
On a plain, white piece of paper.
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