Reaching this point in the year is always a bit emotional, and makes me get even more introspective than usual. But I think we can all say that when the date ticks over to 2021, we’ll all be cheering, even just internally. I know things won’t change overnight, and there is still so much to reckon with from this past year, but even just the symbolism of starting a fresh new page feels good right now. (Because, hey, at least it’s a new feeling instead of despair?)
There’s been so much anxiety this past year, and so much fear and anger, and it’s going to take a long time for us all to process everything. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to process it fully. . .it’s just so overwhelming. My solace this year, besides being with my incredibly supportive, sweet, and silly partner, has been to try and escape into writing.
And yesterday I finished edits of my third novel, my Venice book, the historical romance I’ve always wanted to write, and which kept me going this year. It was my PROJECT, the thing that made me want to wake up when otherwise I would’ve just kept trying to become one with the duvet. It gave me a reason to get up and think about something other than how shit everything is. And in turn, it made things less shit. I’m so grateful for it, and for all the privileges I’ve had that allowed me to devote time and energy to it.
I’ve started to send it out to my CPs, and I’m so excited to get their feedback and see if anything in it is working. I loved getting lost in 17th-century Venice (or at least my slightly romanticized version of it), and getting into the heads of two brand new characters who I now love equally, and want to explore more stories with someday. It felt good to finish editing it too, as that was my goal for the end of this year, since I wrote it over the summer, let it rest in the fall, and then wanted to have it ready for my CPs by Christmas. Give or take a few days, I did it, and I’m proud of myself.
I also revised (twice) and partially rewrote my first novel, HONORS, in order to enter it into two different contests this year, and I am so thankful for those contests, because A) they helped give me external deadlines to aim for, and B) I’ve met some amazing new online friends and CPs through them! I’m so grateful for the online writing community, they’ve made the hours of doomscrolling on Twitter and Instagram a light among so much dark this year. So now that I’ve finished with my Venice book for the time being, I’m feeling drawn back towards HONORS, mostly because of my stubborn (and probably foolish) need to get it right.
This has led to (of course) another existential spiral in my writing brain, where I’ve been grappling with the whole idea of when is a story ‘right’? When is a story done? Not only finished, but successful, in the sense that the writer feels it’s the best version it can be, and they feel fulfilled by it? I know there’s an entirely external and out-of-our-control element to this, where getting representation, a book deal, hitting the list and getting awards, all add to that sense of fulfilling our goals and dreams, and who doesn’t want to get positive feedback from their readers too? But I’m talking about that smaller-scale version, where the writer feels confident in their story and the decisions they’ve made. Where they step back and say “Yup, that’s what I was trying to say with this story, and I’ve said it. I’m happy with it.”
I guess what I’m saying is, I really want that confidence. I rambled about this during my drafting process over the summer, about when you’re plotting/outlining/drafting and you have to make choices as the author. Will the character do this, or that? (Because of X, Y, or Z?) That will then lead to a new outcome, and a new set of choices and consequences. So how do you know the one you chose was the right one? For the characters, for the story, all of it?
I’m sure part of this confidence just comes from writing more books, and seeing what works and feels best for that particular story. And I know I can always choose a path, and then change it in revisions if I want. But what about those writers who just follow their intuition/inspiration, and it works for them the first time?? It seems that confidence comes from the writer themselves; it’s something inherent and unshakeable in them. And I guess I feel like I don’t have that? (At least not yet?)
I’m constantly second-guessing everything, and afraid that I’ve not done it right (whatever IT is). Is part of this probably the result of my anxiety and life-long fear of making mistakes/doing things wrong? Absolutely. Could some of it be from what I’m now suspecting is my ADHD-brain as well? Probs. (Side note: thank you to the self-diagnosis ADHD-ers on Twitter, who have been helping me see how my brain isn’t broken, but might actually be fighting ADHD. . .) So how do I silence all the doubt gremlins in my head and just be satisfied with my stories?
I know I can’t rely on external feedback, and that I need to cultivate that validation within myself, internally, and build that self-confidence as I go. But I guess I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m in my 30s now, and I still feel like an awkward middle-schooler trying to figure out where she fits in to everything. And what she’s supposed to do with her one wild and precious life.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m an INFJ Scorpio and I love all of these deep existential questions, but I would also love some answers, or certainty, or confidence to go with them too. Maybe?
I suppose it’s no surprise that this neurosis appears in my writing too. But looking back at my Venice book, and how I let it marinate for years before actually beginning it, I think that made it the most confident and assured draft I’ve ever written. Maybe I need to take what I’ve learned from it and go back to my other WIPs and try the same approach (with an outline or two as well. . .)
Beyond my ridiculous spirals into self-doubt about my writing, there have been some lovely quiet moments with my partner over the past year and the Christmas holidays that I do want to remember. I loved watching a movie or TV show each night with him, and especially rewatching the Lord of the Rings (extended editions, of course!) with him and my family over zoom. My siblings and I used to marathon them every year in those gloriously sugar-hazy days between Christmas and New Year’s when we were younger, so I love that my partner and I are incorporating it into our own holiday traditions, even despite this mess of a year. We’ve been setting ourselves little things to look forward to each day, and it’s helped me keep my chin up, instead of staying in bed and giving in to the brain weasels. It’s amazing how just having one tiny thing each day to do, to work on, to even look forward to, can mean so much nowadays. Everything is so much simpler now, and set into starker relief.
I’m going to carry that into the new year with me, along with all the wonderfully vulnerable and honest and brave sentiments woven throughout the Lord of the Rings that I definitely needed reminding of—that friendship and love can endure despite horrible times, that all we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us, and that there is good in the world worth fighting for.
It’s sappy, but hey, at this point I’m just grateful, and hoping to take what I’ve learned this past year into the new one with me.
As always, thanks for reading and being there. I hope you’re all doing ok, whatever that means for you.
Sending all the new year wishes,