Sunday, 19 July 2015

A Window to the Soul

I've been making up stories for as long as I can remember, but I was around 12 when I realised I was a writer. My first "novels" were a ghost story and a soppy teenage romance full of cheesy lines and stereotypical characters, and far too many descriptions of hair colour. Before long, I was making lists of names for characters, maps of a Narnia-esque fantasy world and profiles for my imaginary people. But the thing is, I have this rule where I never let anyone read my work until it's finished, and aside from snippets and short stories written solely to gain feedback from my creative writing circle, I haven't ever finished anything.

But last November I made a breakthrough. I finally finished the first draft of a novel I had been working on for three years, the first novel I had good ideas for and the first time I knew I had to finish something. This determination spurred me on to begin the second draft, A few weeks ago, after spending a good six months tidying up the timeline and adding scenes that joined up the pieces of the puzzle, I started writing the third draft, this time focusing on dialogue and getting facts straight. But then the doubts that have been simmering away in the background for years finally came bubbling to the surface, throwing obstacles in my way.

Like any writer, I've had doubts before, such as writer's block when I wasn't sure where the plot was going or the cringing when I felt like my writing sounded terrible. But this time, the doubts are crippling me. At first I despaired of my dialogue, which has always been one of my weak points. But now I can see that dialogue is just a trivial symptom that I can shelve along with writer's block and cringing. The real problem has been niggling away at me since I started writing this novel, but now it has come crashing into me, and for the first time I am seriously considering abandoning all my hard work.

Because I realised this isn't like my other attempts at novels. In the past, my writing was pure fiction, such as fantasy worlds with cliché scenarios, heroes and villains and quests. But this novel isn't like that. This novel, while fiction, draws on real experiences and real feelings, because unlike teenage me, I have now lived and felt and seen. The plot and characters may be figments of my imagination, but the saying goes that the best writing comes from the heart, and I have applied that in my novel.

Despite my half-hearted attempts at toning it down (another saying is that writers should be honest and not worry about what people think), I am only too aware that my novel gives quite a raw insight into my soul. And although I want people to hear what I have to say, I'm afraid of showing who I am and afraid of how I will be judged. If it were only perfect strangers who were going to read what I've written, I probably wouldn't care. But the people who are going to read my novel include those who know and love me. And let's not be too optimistic; they may even be the only ones to read my writing.

And so I've stumbled across the writing problem that seems to be the least talked about. I have read books, blogs and Pinterest pins full of advice regarding character building, strengthening plots and improving dialogue, but aside from the quotes telling you to "be honest", "don't care about what people think" and "the best writing comes from the heart", I haven't come across many accounts from writers having to get over the crippling fear of exposing their soul to their nearest and dearest. I feel like I've come too far to give up now. I have two beta readers - a best friend and my boyfriend - waiting impatiently for me to finally let them read my work, and my family are asking me when I'm going to show them the fruits of all these years of labour.

Perhaps I will give up now, at the last hurdle. Or perhaps I will shelve it away until I stumble across it at 80 and do a Harper Lee. Or perhaps I'll just grin and bear it.

The best writing comes from the heart. Now I just have to decide whether or not I should let people see me at my best.

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