Novel Writing Is Like…

My younger son tends to be clingy.  He hangs onto things.  He had a stuffed tiger named Kitty who traveled with us on every trip for two years, until she ran away (okay, disappeared somewhere in our house, we think.)  He had a favorite blanket that he slept with, and chewed on every night, until we talked him into throwing it away on New Year’s Eve 2010 (following the advice of his dentist.)  Last weekend, after several months of being a five-year-old, we took the training wheels off his bike, despite his protests.

We went to an empty parking lot and my husband taught him the basics on “big boy bike riding.”  My older son strapped elbow and knee pads on his brother.  It was a rare moment of compassion that touched me because most of their interactions are not tender at all.  My younger son screamed when the bike started moving.  He cried that he couldn’t do it.  My husband promised he was right there (but neglected to mention that he was not touching the bike at all.) 

My younger son would ride for several seconds, but as soon as he realized he was riding unassisted, he would panic, lose his balance and fall.  We rode circles around that parking lot to get him comfortable with the bike and he did well at navigating the turns.  After several solo laps without a tumble, we thought he was ready to take it to the streets.

As soon as we left the parking lot and rode on the sidewalk by the street, he panicked – falling off the bike and into the street.  After several attempts, we decided he wasn’t ready yet, so we went back to the parking lot and he rode four more laps around the lot without him wrecking the bike. 

We exited the parking lot, and as soon as we got to the street, my son quit pedaling and his bike fell over, dumping him into the street once again.  He screamed and cried angry tears.  He begged for the training wheels.  That day, riding within the confines of the sidewalk or the paved street was too much for him, so he walked his bike home.  Fear had grabbed hold of him and wouldn’t let go.  I still believe he had the skills to do it, but his brain wasn’t ready. 

I can relate to him.  I feel the same way when it comes to writing my second novel.  No, I haven’t sat in the street and cried (yet) but I know how it feels when fear won’t let go.  I wrote one novel, so I know I have the capacity to do it, but for some reason my brain isn’t cooperating.  I can’t imagine what I might be afraid of. 

Maybe it’s something else.  I’m only guessing that fear is the culprit behind my lack of progress (aided and abetted by procrastination and life) because that’s usually the cause of my stagnation.  Fear is unlike mutual funds:  past performance is a good indicator of future results.  In the past, fear has surrounded me in a cocoon of sameness, protected from the dangers of the world.  It pushed air through my lungs and controlled my heart.  Fear suspended my dreams in this coma while I went through the motions of living.

Several years ago, I awakened when I began writing that first novel.  I’ve got a few novel ideas that I want to plot out and a growing list of short story topics.  I’m not willing to close my notebooks, shut down the computer and hand them over to fear, so I continue to fight off this unknown enemy, while searching for its identity.

I’ve ruled out fear of success.  Traumatic as it would be to sell my work and get to the point where writing could be my day job, I think I could manage.

It can’t be fear of failure, either.  My first novel is gathering dust on a bookshelf; it can only improve from there, right? 🙂

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26 thoughts on “Novel Writing Is Like…

  1. Debbie May 5, 2011 / 7:45 AM

    Your story takes me back to when my son was learning to ride his bike sans training wheels. One fall and that was it — no more bike for quite a long time. ‘Course, it was a nasty fall, requiring stinging medicine on his knee and bruised pride from having the neighbors watch! As to your fear, well, I recommend you just dig down deep and immerse yourself in your new novel. With one already written (even though it’s on a shelf!), you know you can do it. Don’t take ‘No” for an answer — plunge right in, before your emotions can sway your mind away from the task at hand!

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 7:42 PM

      I didn’t shed my own training wheels until I was six (and a half). That should tell you loads about me, right there! I’m glad your son didn’t require anything more than a little ointment and pride-soothing after his spill.

      I think you’re right about jumping right in. I’ve been working on the short story character developments (two are in process but not completed.) I do want to finish that exercise and get into the meat of the novel. Maybe my feeling is from the time I’m spending on character development. It feels like I’m not doing anything because there are no pages written of the novel, but I’m getting to know my characters, which will help with the novel.

      Thanks for the advice and words of encouragement, Debbie. I give myself until May 31st on character development. Ready or not, the novel writing will start June 1.

  2. Carol Ann Hoel May 5, 2011 / 9:10 AM

    I’m having the same trouble with tackling my next revision of my first novel. I believe I can do it. I know what to do. Yet, I don’t want to begin. I can’t figure it out, Janna. Let me know if you pass from your resistance into forward motion. I’m interested to know how it happens. In the meantime, I will wait for motivation to continue. It could happen any minute, but I’ve been waiting a while now. I’ll also be watching the comments you get on this post. 🙂 Blessings to you…

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 7:48 PM

      I’m glad I’m not alone in that feeling. I’ve been frustrated with myself. I’m dragging my feet on character development (developing blog posts instead.) I’ll do a follow up if/and when the drive kicks in.

      I’m curious as to why you’re resisting the revision process. Maybe Debbie’s advice would apply here too: just plunge right in. Even half-an-hour a day might rekindle the desire to do revisions. Good luck, Carol. I hope you do a post when the motivation returns!

      • Carol Ann Hoel May 5, 2011 / 8:04 PM

        I’ll let you know. Exactly what I should do is plunge in. If I do, I may wonder why I ever hesitated. Thanks, Janna. Blessing to you…

        • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 8:25 PM

          Plunging in is easier said than done, isn’t it? Good luck anyway. I know you’ll finish it.

  3. suzicate May 5, 2011 / 9:47 AM

    Yay, for you for having the courage to complete the first one! I still have several unsfinished manuscripts. I even recently pulled one out and started revamping it…and have not touched it since or the other WIP….story of my life, INCOMPLETE! Good luck to you on the second one.

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 7:53 PM

      Thanks, SuziCate. The first one started out just to prove to myself that I could do it (after many attempts that ended after twenty pages or so.) I do agree that starting the manuscript is easy; keeping the momentum to finish is more difficult. Especially when new ideas come up. Good luck in finding the project that will capture your interest and demand to be completed. If your blog is any indication, I bet you’ve got some manuscripts that deserve to be read.

  4. carldagostino May 5, 2011 / 9:50 AM

    I had stuffed animals that ran away (allegedly). And ones that were taken to the animal hospital (allegedly) Coming up on 62 and still resent that they were taken away from me. So what if they smelled and were falling apart. They were my friends. They were stolen. Now I am a cynical existentialist and recovering alcoholic because of these kidnappings 60 years ago.

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 10:34 AM

      That is a horrible how you’ve suffered because of the snatching away of your treasured animals. I’m sure my kids will have their own stories of ruined childhood to tell their therapists when they grow up.

      I should clarify that we didn’t have anything to do with Kitty’s disappearance. Kitty was legitimately lost and I’ve looked under couches, behind desks, in closets, cabinets and toy bins. I can’t find her anywhere. When our stuffed pet population gets too large, we ask the kids to pick 2 or 3 for another child to love…we don’t condone stuffed animal-napping.

      Now I can exhale a sigh of relief knowing that I may have prevented them from becoming alcoholic cynical existentialists by the simple act of not abducting their stuffed animal friends. Thanks for bringing these dangers to my attention 🙂

  5. 2blu2btru May 5, 2011 / 10:42 AM

    Too bad writing isn’t exactly like learning to ride a bike. If it were, you’d never lose the knack or be able to forget how to do it. ;-). I grapple with procrastination more than anything else, but there’s fear, too. Namely the fear that my stories are too big and complex for me, that I am doing them an injustice by trying to be the one to write that. I feel like I don’t have a clue what I’m doing sometimes. I feel like my best writing may be behind me at other times. But you keep pressing on, determine to get farther and be better. I love that about writing–there’s always another blank page, another opportunity to start over and write it like you want it to be.

    Great post! And good luck to your little one; I’m sure he’ll conquer big boy riding soon. 🙂

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 8:02 PM

      I don’t know what I’m doing either, 2blu. I feel even more discouraged when I read a really good book, because I know I couldn’t write something that good. Luckily, my mind kicks in and reminds me that it will be true if I don’t even attempt to write. Procrastination and fear go hand-in-hand – I hope you conquer both.

      I love what you said “another blank page, another opportunity to start over and write it like you want it to be” – perfectly said 🙂

      P.S. Thanks for your well-wishes for my son. I know he will conquer the fear that’s holding him back, because he’s already proven he can do it.

  6. Hilary Clark May 5, 2011 / 11:21 AM

    The first step is always the scariest. Try sitting down for 10 minutes to work on one of your plot ideas. I suspect you’ll find yourself writing for much longer and then will be reluctant to stop. That’s what works for me. 🙂

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 8:05 PM

      Thanks for the suggestion, Hilary. You’re right – I just need to start writing it. But I’m going to give myself a few weeks to finish the character development stories first. I’m sure I’ll post about the progress (when there is progress, that is!)

  7. Amy Isaman May 5, 2011 / 2:40 PM

    Great post! Timely too – I teach English and started To Kill a Mockingbird this past week. Remember what Harper Lee wrote about the residents of Maycomb County who “had nothing to fear but fear itself”? I think that’s so true. We get all wound up in the fear and can’t get past that, and then that fear stops us in our tracks. I don’t even know if you have to name it ie. fear of success or failure. Sometimes just “fear” is enough to paralyze. Your story illustrates that so well – life can be scary! Good luck overcoming it. I enjoyed your post.

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 8:17 PM

      You’re right – fear doesn’t have to be named. It’s my Psychology background at work – I get wrapped up in the “why” and analyze it to death. That time would be better spent writing.

      I had forgotten about that quote, but it is true. Thank you for visiting my blog and sharing your thoughts on fear, Amy. I appreciate your kind words!

  8. widdershins May 5, 2011 / 4:41 PM

    I remember my first big girl ride.
    There was a hill near us we called ‘the big dipper’ for obvious reasons. It was an old shale road (shale being cheaper and easily accessible in that part of Australia) that was resurfaced (meaning they came along and filled in the gullys and pot-holes) in spring, and that was it as far as road maintenance went.

    My father had built a little bicycle out of parts he scrounged from who-knows-where and painted it bright blue. (my favourite colour) He gave it to me and said,
    Off you go.” And that was the extent of my tuition!
    I knew the principle of the thing having watched the other kids. You just kept pedaling and forward momentum would take care of the rest. Not that I knew all that physics stuff at the tender age of 7, but observation’s a great teacher.
    So, off I went, pedalling up the slight hill, with much wobbling and many close calls, but that forward momentum kept me going. Over the crest of the slight hill and down the gentle slope on the other side.
    Thats when two things happened simultaneously. I was not creating my own forward momentum anymore, gravity was, and I was travelling too fast (from my 7yo perspective) to stop.

    I think every kid learns the true meaning of fatalism at these moments.

    The ruts in the road were up to my knees. I got stuck in one and my fate was sealed.

    I made it to the bottom of that very steep hill intact, then I fell over.

    I’ve been in love with bikes ever since.

    I guess I didn’t understand that I was supposed to be afraid.

    (P.S. This is not a recommended method of getting kids on bikes!)

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 8:24 PM

      Wow, that is definitely a “do or die” way to learn bike riding. I guess after that, your only choice is to love bike riding or hate it – I’m not sure there would be an in between. When I learned to ride a bike, I didn’t have all of the protective gear (knee pads, elbow pads, helmet,) but I survived. I think my boy will too, in due time.

      Thanks for sharing your story, Widdershins. It was quite a ride, and I’m glad it didn’t traumatize you 🙂

  9. nrhatch May 5, 2011 / 9:07 PM

    Like you, I’m “procrastinating” on novel writing. Unlike you, I don’t think fear has anything to do with it. I did think it was fear of success holding me back ~ until I have a well written story completed, I need not worry about where and how to get it published, etc.

    Now, I’m pretty sure that I’m not working on any of my WIPs because finishing them is not a priority on my “bucket list”. . . right now, any way.

    By the way, the latest post on Raptitude is on Procrastination ~ putting things off because we don’t want to be judged on our work product. It might shed some light on your issues.

    • jannatwrites May 5, 2011 / 9:35 PM

      I read the article on Procrastination. I could totally relate to the high expectations the author set for himself. (I graduated college Magna Cum Laude. I should have been satisfied with that, right? Nope. I was dissapointed. I was one tenth of a point away from graduating Summa Cum Laude and I obsessed over what I could have done differently.) It is quite possible that my hesitation on novel #2 is because my effort won’t be good enough for me. (My first novel tucked away in the bookcase doesn’t help.)

      Thanks for your comment and passing along the reading tip, Nancy. I think it helps 🙂

    • nrhatch May 5, 2011 / 9:40 PM

      Glad you gained some insights from David’s posts. He always seems to nail whatever topics he tackles.

      So do you. 🙂

      • jannatwrites May 6, 2011 / 8:18 PM

        Nancy – thanks for the vote of confidence. Sometimes I wonder…

  10. crumbl May 6, 2011 / 12:01 AM

    I want to say something inspiring and supportive and encouraging, JT, and all that comes to mind is, “Suck it up, ya big chicken!” I understand the entropy when it comes to writing. I often sit and stare at a blank screen for hours and if I type anything, I as often as not delete it. Then, I get into a manic phase and the words flow. Don’t ask me, I don’t know the answer.

    That said, I’ll relate a story from my youth. Don’t ask me how, I ended up in a sales career. Not my goal, not my education, certainly not my personality. Cold calling on new prospects terrified me. Had to be done. Faced a lot of rejection (and more than a little abuse), but every once in a while, someone not only said yes to talking with me, they said yes to my “pitch” and I made a sale (and some money!) That little reinforcement made all the difference to burying my head under the covers or getting up and going to work every morning.

    Fear isn’t adequate to describe it. I still have my moments of procrastination. Not afraid of doing whatever, just find excuses not to get there from here. Same like writing, I’ll get into a manic phase and accomplish 3 pages of the “honey do” list in a day or two. Usually, I get into my manic “honey do” phase to stop LRHG nagging me, but that’s a separate topic. 🙂

    I like widdershins’ post, and I think it’s apropos … two things resonated from it … she didn’t know she had anything to fear, and once she got some momentum, she just carried on. I don’t think you have anything to fear, but I do think you need to start pedaling to get some momentum. And watch out for those pot holes. 🙂

    • jannatwrites May 6, 2011 / 8:26 PM

      “Suck it up, ya big chicken!” Now there’s a warm and fuzzy sentiment – thanks for that 🙂

      Sales would be a tough profession (not suited to my personality either) so I do give you credit for doing it. The motivation behind completing the list matters less than the fact you’re getting it done. Gets me wondering if I should nag my husband more (more nagging = more stuff done?)

      I think momentum would help out a lot. I feel like I’m trying to get started on an incline and I just can’t get the pedals to move.

      The big chicken (me) thanks you for stopping by and offering your support, Crumbl.

  11. Amanda Hoving May 11, 2011 / 6:31 AM

    I think I suffered a bit from fear of failure in the past. When you haven’t sent something out, there’s no chance for rejection. Procrastination is now my obstacle.

    Best to you on book #2 (and on the bike-riding adventure)!

    • jannatwrites May 11, 2011 / 10:37 PM

      Procrastination is sneaky – it bothers me, too. Rejection isn’t pleasant either, though.

      We haven’t been riding since that day, but will make it out there soon, I hope! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Amanda.

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