It’s been three years since I started my third novel, Within. Even though I have completed three manuscripts in the past, this one feels like the first. This is the first “adult” novel I’ve ever written. Not because it’s subject material takes a full-fledged adult to comprehend it, but because it’s the first time I have written as an actual adult. It’s the first time I’ve written a book and not considered the future an uncharted path that can take any form I want, so long as I study hard and put in enough effort to make the As and Bs that sometimes feel too easy.
Within is the book that knows what it’s like to stay awake long after the sun rises because somehow staring with sore eyes at a glaring computer screen is easier than closing them in the dark, where thoughts run rampant and all you think is, “You could be doing more.”
It’s a book that realizes the people you grow up admiring are actually people too, and they have just as many flaws as you, and their pain is just as real as yours and maybe even more painful. It’s the book that knows you should listen to warnings when people give them, because most of the time, they aren’t telling you something you don’t want to hear for their sake. And it’s a book that knows you’ll do what you want anyway, and maybe you’ll regret it and maybe you won’t, because every mistake you are going to make and have made so far has brought you here, right now, thinking about writing more than you actually do it, and living through the people in your head because you don’t really know who you are.
I started this book dozens of times. The closest I got to finishing was around 63,000 words in November 2015, when I participated in NaNoWriMo. That was the turning point for me; I finally figured out where the story was going and how it would end. Now I am approaching 20k on the final draft and I’m really excited, but I am still not writing as much as I want to. In fact, I will write other things before I open this book. And I realized a while ago that it’s because I am scared to end this. So what do you do when you’re scared to finish a book?
Fear will always exist. Opportunity won’t.
You ask yourself why. And then you have to accept the fact that you aren’t scared of sharing this book because of what other people will think. You’re scared because this book is everything that you think brought to life. And people will see that, and you will see that, and when you’re both looking at the same thing, there’s no way for you to change your mind on a good day and think, “Maybe I don’t feel like that after all.”
When you are scared to write, you have to acknowledge that fear is not the enemy. One of my own characters in my last book had a mantra that kept her going through the zombie apocalypse. Don’t let fear be an option. Fear will always exist. Opportunity won’t.
So you have to start writing and you cannot stop after you hit a 100 words. You write until you finish that chapter, and then you read it and realize that it’s actually pretty good. You push past those sentences that make you cringe because you don’t want your character to think like that (even though you know they did). And you do the same thing the next day. Now, the ”next day” might be a week later, but you come back. You have to come back; you have to return again and again and again, more frequently until the next day really is the next day, or maybe even less than 24 hours later.
Soon you will realize that you have a book, and now it doesn’t matter what you do with it because it’s done and you — for all that you were during the time it took to write it — are immortalized in those pages, in those characters, in their tears and their laughter, in the love that they lost and rediscovered. You’re everything in all its agonizing glory, and you’re beautiful just for existing.
I can give you tips and tricks on how to write when you’re afraid or you don’t know how or when outlining won’t work. And I probably will, because those generic lists can actually come in pretty handy now and again. But sometimes, what a writer really needs more than anything, is for another writer to just say, “I get it.”
And I do. I get why you haven’t met the deadline you set and reset over and over and over again until you’ve missed way more deadlines than you’ve ever made in your life. And I get why you feel so frustrated watching other writers share excerpts and get dozens of likes when the excerpt it took you weeks to even write doesn’t even get five.
And I get that sometimes, you are so sick of this book and you are happy writing another one, but in the back of your mind, that story is there and you know that it will bother you ten times more to leave it unfinished than it will to complete it, even if it’s absolute crap.
I get it, and it’s okay. You don’t have to write every single day, but you really should try. You know you want to. You feel it in your heart and your mind, even when the rest of you doesn’t want to cooperate. You don’t have to stop being afraid, either. You probably always will be in some way or another. Who won’t? But you have to learn that writing is the perfect place to be afraid, because when people aren’t scared to be scared, they become honest. And honesty is what people crave in fiction. Honesty makes your characters say and do things that will make people laugh, piss them off, make them cry, and all the other crazy things that happen in the real world when we are scared enough to speak our minds.
If you’re familiar with Game of Thrones, then you know that fear is a big part of this show. Usually the ones watching are the most terrified, but the characters get pretty afraid too. They don’t always show it the way you expect though. Most of the time, they’re fighting till their noble ends and doing everything humanly possible to reach their goals. Sometimes that goal is just staying alive.
In A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin, there is a quote that sheds entirely new light on the characters we watch. It’s early on in the book, when young Bran Stark asks his father, “Can a man be brave if he is afraid?”
His father replies, “That is the only time a man can be brave.”
Maybe more writers need to be afraid. Because if a book makes you feel so much that you’re scared to write it, scared to know what the world will think of it — of you — then chances are that is the exact book you need to be writing. Because you have no idea who might read that book and, amidst the lines of lives unfolding, see one simple message they so desperately need: “I get it.”