In sitting down to write this post—my first blog as a published novelist-to-be—I’ve been reflecting my own path as an author. I have dreamed since childhood of writing and publishing fiction. That goal, over the past fourteen years, has driven me to learn the art of writing, to read great authors, to join critique groups and writing organizations, to attend a liberal arts college, and more. My pursuit of the craft has dramatically shaped most of my major life decisions.
But the pursuit of publication is only one aspect of the writing journey. When I reflect more deeply—when I try to discern what has driven me internally for all these years—I find a different answer. And while it is not at all unique, it is the truth: I write for love.
If you are a writer, an artist, a musician, or a creator of any kind, you’ve had this experience. It’s the idea that grips you by the throat and fills your whole being with fire. It distracts you during the day and keeps you sleepless long into the night. It’s the vision of the characters or worlds that demand to be born, even when you know you do not have the skill to bring them to life as perfectly as you imagined.
I struggled with this dilemma for years as a young writer, as I started and then abandoned novel after novel. What was the point, I thought, of falling so fiercely in love with one idea, of pouring all my effort into it for months or sometimes years, only to create something so flawed? What was the point of cherishing something that I would inevitably have to discard?
But I kept writing—what choice did I have, really, in the grip of that demanding love?—and I found something strange happening. In every story I attempted, no matter how agonizing the writing process, I was learning something. I could look back through my mounds of unpublished work and see where I had begun to use better plot structure or character arcs or dialogue or worldbuilding. And I began to suspect that each story—even the unfinished ones, even the ones that had driven me to disgust and despair—had had a purpose after all.
Two years ago, during my final semester of college, I was reflecting on this turning point in my writing journey. Although I didn’t have time to do much creative writing during my college years, I was still thinking about it continually. On this particular day, I was fretting over the fact that I had been “possessed” again—possessed by a story idea that I had no time to write, and which also seemed impossibly challenging in itself. And yet I was, as usual, hopelessly enamored with it.
This is part of what I journaled on that day:
I have to trust to the enthusiasms I’ve been given. In some sense (and this is very strange to think about), I cannot choose the stories that I write. The idea grips me, or it doesn’t. And if I relinquish the seed of the story I’ve fallen in love with, then I am only rejecting a gift, without which I cannot write at all.
In the end, I know, I will take the gift without questioning it, if only because it will lead me to the next thing, the better thing, whatever that may be. I’ve learned that much. In the sense that every word I choose teaches me what to do or what not to do next time, nothing I have ever written is a waste. It is the only way I can make sense of the creative cycle…it is the only way for me to fall in love over and over without becoming a discouraged skeptic.
I have learned that none of my effort as a writer is wasted, and none of my love, either. The wholehearted labor of the artist always bears fruit, though it may take years to grow and may appear unexpectedly. In my own experience, all my best work has come about in this way. My book Markmaker started as an experimental character sketch—not even a novel idea, but merely an intriguing premise and a deeply introspective protagonist, who began telling me his story and then refused to be quiet. And this story, which I labored over totally in love, with no initial expectation of success, is now in the process of becoming my first published novel.
I am immensely grateful for everything I’ve learned on this road so far, and for the many, many people who have helped me along the way. I’m humbled and excited to begin this new stage of the writing journey. This blog will be home to my personal reflections and news as I continue honing my craft and navigating the world of publishing. I hope you will consider joining me, as fellow readers, writers, and friends.
Here’s to a new adventure.
Ain’t it a pain when a character starts talking to you and won’t shut up until you write their story? Experienced that with my own character, Minerva James. She led me to getting published in Alfred Hitchcock.
I look forward to your novel, young lady, and congratulate you on the beginning of what will be a long and glorious career as an author.