I didn’t write a single new book in 2019.
Sure, I did edit two different novels. I created and plotted a whole new series. And this isn’t the first year I haven’t written a new novel. I didn’t complete a new one in 2017 either, and, in fact, I made more writing progress this past year than I did in 2017.
But I had hoped to write a new book this year. I even set that as one of my writing goals for 2019, but when I made those goals, I hadn’t counted on graduate school and how my program hogs a ton of my time.
I’m not making any writing promises to myself this year. Yes, I have goals—I hope to write something and maybe edit a whole book—but if I don’t meet those expectations, that’s okay.
I want to write more this semester, but quite frankly, I’m not sure what that looks like. Do I need to hold myself accountable to an hour every week? An afternoon? A few minutes each day? And beyond that, what do I even focus on? That last question presents my biggest writing rut at the moment.
I have three options at this very moment in time.
Option 1: Our Company of Fools and its possible sequels ~ I’ve written extensively about this book of mine on this website (for example, what inspired the story, as well as occasional updates about its halting progress), so it’s no secret that I’ve poured my heart and soul into this book. I’ve also struggled with it a lot, and despite my touching words from a year ago about how this is the book I must share with the world… I’m less certain of that now. I’m stuck wondering if maybe, just maybe, this book was meant to teach me about myself, encourage the hearts of my writing community, and be the practice grounds for my future writing. Maybe it’s not meant to soar anymore. Sometimes I feel like each time I edit it, I drift further and further away from the heart of the story. Yet it feels wrong to just walk away from this story. I’m still drawn to it.
I have a vision for where Leah Pool (the main character of Our Company of Fools) could go and end up. The problem is that endgame vision needs a bridge between Leah’s humble beginnings and the climactic end I’ve imagined, and I can’t seem to find the right materials to build a sturdy bridge. So do I cut off Leah’s story after Our Company of Fools, or hold out until I can write a cohesive, well-formed series? Which is the best for the story and its future readers? I have loose ends that need tying off, whether that means by editing Our Company of Fools to stand on its own or by carrying out Leah’s story to its intended conclusion.
I also wonder about the themes and story. Are my metaphors too heavy-handed? Is the story limited when I don’t explicitly pull Christianity into the pages? Does the world even make sense? Is the story too depressing, dark, and cruel that it drowns out even the happiest of endings?
So, in the end, I am left with uncertainty. I hesitate to pick up Leah’s story because I know it is an all-consuming endeavor, fraught with fears and doubts. I’m not so sure I’m ready for it. With that story, I feel as it I’m lost in the woods, and each path seems equally tricky and long. I feel like whichever way I choose to go, it’s no turning back.
Option 2: The Queen of Imagination ~ I still delight in this book, but I’m at a (perhaps self-imposed) impasse. I want feedback to make my future edits fruitful. I’m not necessarily uncertain about how to proceed, but I lack enough feedback to make future edits fruitful. Finding the right readers, though, is a challenge, especially at a stage of life where my writing peers are busier, and the book I’ve written is for a younger audience. Yet I don’t like the idea of proceeding with my edits without some reader-given advice and direction.
Option 3: “New Series” ~ I started work on this last Spring. My challenge with this is that though the project excites me in the noncommittal brainstorming stage, whenever I try and pin down the story, there’s always something…missing. I haven’t captured the essence of what this story is meant to add to the world, unlike my other two options. Inspiration abounds, ideas are flourishing, but my attempts so far to weave the tapestry of this series only leave me with a tangled mess. This isn’t uncommon—this idea has existed for six or seven years in various forms and usually gets a reboot every year or two. So perhaps the time just isn’t right yet.
Writing this all out helps me process where I stand, and I hope it might be an encouragement to my fellow creators who feel trapped, stifled, or perplexed with their own art. Creating stories (and other art forms) is a monumental, complicated, difficult task. Doubt about whether or not a project is a worthwhile or captivating pursuit is very real for us all. Having a plethora of ideas with little direction is a problem, especially when none of those ideas seem to be the perfect one, no matter how many come our way. These are all normal parts of living the life of a creative person. These are the battles we all, as artists, face.
Will I write anything this year? I hope so. I really, really hope so.
Will I be published this decade? I hope so. I really, really hope so.
But even if I don’t, I am still a Writer. I was for the majority (if not all) of the past decade, and that hasn’t changed just because I find myself, at the beginning of the 2020s, wandering in the woods of plot-paralysis.
Life is unpredictable. If I’ve learned anything in the past decade, it’s that. Life is also busy—I barely had time to breathe once school started. But I don’t want that to be an excuse. Yes, in this season, I’m not called to focus solely on my writing. I’m a student, I’m a university employee, I’m a friend; three identities that I must prioritize over being a writer. And that’s okay. God’s gifts of storytelling, creating worlds, weaving narratives are all huge pieces of me, and I’m not going to let them go.
Even if I don’t write a new project this year, even if I don’t edit an old one, I’m still honing my craft in other ways. By writing this piece, and any other blog posts that may inconsistently appear over the course of 2020. By reading new books (I just finished Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark, which I’ll write more on later this month, and I’ve began the long but thrilling expedition into Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, the third book of The Stormlight Archive, AKA my favorite contemporary fantasy series). Even writing graduate school papers is a practice ground. Sure, it’s a different sort of writing, but it challenges me to think clearly and concisely, to say more with less, and create a compelling pathway through the topic I’m writing on. My hope is that these won’t be the only ways I continue to grow as a writer, but at the very least, I will have some engagement with the written word and stories. That is enough.
I may not have finished a new project in 2019. I may not be a published novelist yet. But that doesn’t change the fact that I am still a Writer. That’s who God has made me to be, called me to be, equipped me to be. I’m glad for the past ten(ish) years as a writer, and excited for the next ten to come. Whatever 2020 holds for my storyteller’s journey, I’m excited for it.