I’m always afraid when I start something new. There is comfort in working on old projects, whether editing, proofreading, or even continuing an old story through a new book. In editing and proofreading, the work is already there. I just have to move it around, spruce it up, make it pretty. When continuing an established work, like the Thorns series, my characters, my backstories, my world-building, my tone and style, they’ve already been established. I have more springboards to work from, even when I’m creating new canon. That’s also what’s nice about fanfiction (and the Thorns series could be considered fanfiction, of a kind, given it’s a fairy tale mash-up).
But when I start from scratch on a completely new, standalone story, I always start afraid. I was afraid when I started horror story DEEP DOWN earlier this year (technically continued it from what I’d put down a year before, but still kind of terrified). And I’m afraid now that I’m starting American gothic fairy tale DRIFT.
Everything I write sounds like it comes from me – at least, to me it does – but the styles still shift from one kind of story to the next, because to a certain degree, form follows function. Think of it as the filter of the story. You can have the same director of photography and notice the trends, but the filter changes the impressions and moods. And it’s so important to how the story is felt and received.
New characters. People who have populated my head like ghosts quietly solidify and come to life, and they never end up quite the way I imagined them. New settings. New themes. New endings. New problems.
I’m afraid to start because I’m afraid it’s all going to come out wrong. I’m not going to get the tone right. The style won’t work with me. The ending will be weak. I’m not going to be able to get from point A to point B.
This fear is not irrational. I’ve failed before.
I succeed more often than not these days, and a lot of the problems can be fixed in editing. But NOCTURNE needed several complete rewrites, not just edits, although I salvaged much from the original drafts. The beginning of THORNS was reworked multiple times because it never felt quite right. I’m going to have to rewrite WAR HOUSE (I was actually going to do that this summer, but DRIFT felt more solid to me). I have a trilogy that I tried ten years ago that never got off the ground, and though I love the concept, I’m still not sure how to salvage it.
I really could get this wrong. And if I do, it might feel like writing the first draft was a waste of my time, since I would either have to let it go or try again later. I already feel like my writing time is strained as it is without having to write things more than once.
But God, it might go right. Or right enough. And even if it goes wrong and I have to rewrite, that’s still a solution. Not my favorite solution, but it’s something.
That’s why, no matter how scared I am to begin, I just do it. I just write the words, day after terrifying day, until I’m finished.
Until I determine it’s ready to prepare for publication, I remind myself that everything I write is just for me. No one has to see it. No one can judge it. I don’t even edit until everything’s finished, because I can’t assess details until I understand the larger picture. It’s all about getting the words down. Fear is an empty page, and as Jodi Picoult says, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”
I can either work with what I have – which I think I’m actually quite good at doing – or I don’t work with anything at all. The story remains in my head instead of getting exorcised, and no one can judge it, but also, no one can read it. And that doesn’t serve anyone.
So yeah, I’m afraid of writing. I’m also afraid of what happens when I don’t. So I sit down in front of my fear, and I start writing anyway.