The long road back to here

Yesterday I went and spoke at my good friend Susin Nielsen‘s class. I’ve done this before; I go in and she asks me a few questions and I tell the convoluted tale of my road to publication. It was nothing I’d usually be nervous about, but I must have been a little bit worried because I had an anxiety dream the night before.

It began as the most hackneyed of all anxiety dreams: the one where you suddenly realize you have to take the final exam but you haven’t been attending the class. Maybe you forgot. Maybe you hadn’t realized you were enrolled. Whatever the reason, it’s too late now, the final is here and you’re going to flunk it.

In this dream, however, I was able to go talk to the professor beforehand. Lo and behold, the professor was John Oliver! So I thought to myself (in the dream), “Y’know, I’m not completely ignorant of World History. I might be able to fake my way through this exam. And he’s a comedian, so if I write really funny answers, maybe he’ll overlook the lack of facts.”

Then I thought, cheekily, “After grades are in, I wonder if he’d go out with me?”

Alas, the dream ended there, so I never did get to find out whether Professor John Oliver would go out with undergrad me. It’s probably just as well. What really strikes me about the whole thing was that I walked into a classic anxiety dream and then turned it on its ear. I was going to boldly bluff my way through the dreaded exam and then, ye gods, the gall of me.

I sometimes feel like I move in circles. Here I go again, toward another book launch; Brian’s comment on yesterday’s post made me realize that I’m coming toward it from a different mental angle than before. Maybe the dream was about my Shadow Scale tour, and not about Susin’s class at all.

One of her students asked a relevant question, about how to avoid feeling discouraged when a story doesn’t turn out as beautifully on paper as it seemed in your head. I gave her my mother’s analogy, how writing is like portrait painting: you have to compose very generally at first, figure out the basic shapes and where everything goes. Then you add greater detail with each subsequent pass, and only at the very end do you add the finest details, like eyelashes. The key is to be patient, and to remember that you will be going over the whole thing again and again, making it better each time.

Circling back around. This time you see more clearly; this time you understand more about what you’re doing. It’s very Groundhog Day. We get chances to do better all the time.

And so here I am, also, working on the first draft of the next thing, trying to roll with it and not worry. It really is a question of being patient and trusting that it will work the way it has always worked, and even if it doesn’t, that I’m capable and can fake my way out in a pinch.

It’s still hard to be patient, though, even when you see the point.

4 thoughts on “The long road back to here

  1. You have shared the experience of writing so perfectly. We go from pure terror to a place where we understand the world will not end if the book doesn’t take off. (Very few do in the beginning, anyway!) Thanks for sharing the inspirational twist writers learn to spin on life itself!

  2. A total jump here, but this is EXACTLY how remodeling a home works. You walk in and wander around, looking at things, inspecting everything from basement to attic, and a vision forms. You commit to the project and the first thing that occurs to you is “Dear Lord, what have I done to myself?”

    You dive in and demolish the bad stuff, and start laying out the general lines, need new infrastructure here, rough carpentry there, complete new electrical service over yonder, and the plumbing? Gut it and start from scratch.

    As things fall into place you start planning the broad strokes, any changes in the floor plan? Do you need new windows? What goes into the kitchen, and where will the appliances set, and do you want a dishwasher? Where will the fixtures in the bathroom be located?

    Next pass through is to determine what gets done in what order, so everything comes out even at the end of the project, and the pass after that goes into the fine details from fixtures to appliances to paint colors to style of wood trim to what kind of covers for the electrical outlets.

    Final pass, after all this work is touching up everything you’ve done so far, with one last walkthrough to inspect every exposed surface to be sure it matches your original vision, or whatever amended vision you came to during the process.

    I expect the creative process is similar in any major project, but I do see several parallels here.

    Looking forward to snagging a copy as soon as it’s available, I thoroughly enjoyed the first volume.

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