Writer and literary agent Nathan Bradford said in an article, “Nearly every writer I know is afflicted at some point by the sense that they are a complete and total imposter who does not deserve to be writing a sentence, let alone a whole novel.”
After a writing gap of several weeks on my fifth novel – due to the holidays, a major move to a new home, and getting my fourth novel into production for its June 2nd launch, I was not surprised to re-read what I had just written this past Tuesday and believe that it was possibly the worst, most amateurish, trite, overreaching piece of trash that anyone had ever wasted time on. Grandiose, perhaps; but when I go into self-loathing mode, I go all in. It’s completely consuming at the time. Paralyzing. Soul-wrenching. But it is also familiar. Which, I am sad to say, does not make it any easier. Just more familiar.
By the time Cheryl Strayed wrote her second book, Wild, doubt and self-loathing were so familiar to her that she thought, “Okay, so this is how it feels to write a book.” There’s nothing to do but push through, as best you can. A contest of will with one’s self. A contest where the need to write edges out the paralysis of doubt, even if the margin is a slim, fragile hair.
That same Tuesday, I came up with a totally different idea about how to begin the chapter I was working on. A bit later, I realized that the original material could work well as a later addition to the passage. That’s how any given day of writing can go. The entire gamut from despair to satisfaction, many times over.
Here is a sample of the passage from my fifth novel, tentatively entitled The Reading:
Rooms have stories to tell. Some hold on to their stories; the rooms are grim and tight-fisted and fearful that their stories, their precious histories, will be stolen from them and they will be left with nothing. Other rooms are dying to tell you about their past. It leaks out everywhere – the place where broken paneling reveals the tattered stuffing within the walls where a chair toppled during a drunken argument. The chip on a faded picture frame of an equally faded painting holds the memory of an exuberant toast given during a bachelorette party, though the marriage was fraught with deception from well before the wedding itself. The exact places where much-varnished wood has been rubbed raw by a bartender who polishes endlessly when conversations sadden him past the point of endurance. He sidles along the bar, moving away from the words. He rubs, and he rubs.
This was a friendly room. Old, tired even, but welcoming. A room that stretched out its hand and let you know it was pleased that you had come. Nonetheless, I was nervous before that reading. No rhyme or reason to it. No way I could ever uncover something that explained why I was so nervous sometimes – jumpy and clammy and hands shaking – and other times, I wasn’t nervous at all. I would feel comfy and relaxed, and like every single person staring at me was a kind and kindred soul who wished me nothing but the best.
This was one of the nervous times. I got there early. I always get there early. I like to check out the room, feel the feel of it for a time. Because rooms do hold their histories, and they do tell their stories, if you take the time to pay attention, look around, and listen to the walls.
I sat down at a table near the far back of the lengthy room. But the far back turned out to be the far front, as it was right next to the spot where a tall, wild-haired woman was setting up a microphone stand. I supposed that I was sitting a few short feet away from where I would be standing when I read from my latest book. That’s why I was there, in that room, trying to settle into the accumulation of what had occurred in all the time before I was due to stand in front of the microphone, which was still in the future as I was thinking all of this.