Fiction Fragment Friday
Let me just start by saying there is far more truth in this story than fiction. Today was one of the many days of my life where I found myself doubting myself. I struggled to even start writing. As I often do in those moments I finally made a decision to just sit down and put some of those thoughts into my writing. I have worked through doubts, nightmares, and physical pain in past Fiction Fragment Fridays.
As usual once I started writing the story shaped itself out of it. I didn’t start writing planning to have a character come out of a writers head and interact with him. It just developed as I typed. Much of the self doubts the writer experiences though are right from my own head. I have multiple large projects that I keep thinking and talking about, but won’t start. I question whether I can do them justice.
Let me share a little secret with you. No matter how successful a person becomes they can still feel like a fraud just skating by until someone discovers they are not nearly as good as everyone believes. Success should help fight this, but it feeds it more than failure. The more you have to lose the more you fear losing it. The more people see you the more you are afraid of being truly seen for what you really are. Finally, the more validation you receive the more you feel like it is all just a lie to spare your feelings. Criticism is easier to take in some ways because you know it is coming and yet it is not as bad as the thoughts in your own head.
You would think that feeling like a fraud would mean that you trust others more than yourself to complete tasks. This once again is not the case. Just because you believe that you are a fraud doesn’t mean that you have faith in others. You think of all the ways you might fail and assume that others could fall into those same traps. Your own obsession creates what seems like egotism. Even worse you know that you will complete the tasks because you don’t wan to be found out and are afraid that others do not have that motivation. They might be far more talented in your head, but they will never be more dedicated even though both assumptions are often incorrect.
This was the state I found myself in as I stared at the flashing cursor on my screen. The document was blank, and the empty white space was harsh on my eyes. I was supposed to be working on the eighth book of my award-winning urban fantasy series about a powerful mage. I had ended the last book on a cliffhanger, and it was some of the best writing I had ever done. The setup was perfect for the next book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to start writing it. I just knew that nothing I could write would ever live up to the potential I had built with the previous ending.
My fans were supportive, but I could tell that they were getting frustrated. I had written a stand alone novel not related to my series as well as multiple short stories that were set in that universe. They wanted the next part of my character’s story though. In my head I knew that this was when they would finally realize that I was not as talented as they thought. My books are not as clever as they had given me credit for and after I stumbled on such a big moment, they would see the flaws in the previous books. This was where it would all come crashing down.
“You think they’re frustrated with you imagine how I feel?”
I spun around nearly falling out of my chair. There sitting on my couch was my main character. Not the character that graces the cover of my novels, but the character as he always appeared to me in my head. A much younger and better-looking version of myself. He was lounged back with his right leg crossed over his left knee. As my heart beat out of my chest from the shock of a voice in my previously empty room, I couldn’t help but notice an amused smirk come across his face. “Who are you?”
“Oh, you know who I am. I’m the guy who has had my entirely life flipped upside down only to have to wait two years with no sign of you doing anything about it. I’m the guy that you torture novel after novel coming up with the worst possible situations you can think to put me in.” His voice was getting louder, and he was counting off the fingers on his right hand. “I’m the guy that has to make the stupid assumptions early in the book just so I can’t solve the problem too quickly to meet your page count requirements. Finally, I’m the guy that lives in your head and has to hear all your ridiculous self-flagellation and takes the abuse from it as a form of mental therapy.” Then he balled his hand up into a fist and punched me in the face.
I had never been punched before and realized that my descriptions of it in my book were not entirely accurate. Yes, I was there laying on the floor of my living room with the character from my book standing over me and my mind was still finding ways to criticize myself. It was at that moment that I realized I might be having some sort of mental breakdown. The throbbing pain in my check just under my right eye told me he was physically here in the room with me though.
“Oh, get up, I didn’t hit you that hard.” He held out his hand to me and I let him help me up.
“I don’t understand what is happening here.”
“Let’s call it an intervention. See you and I are connected. You created me, but now I’ve got a mind of my own. I don’t have a world of my own though. That you create. You tell my story and I help you do it.”
“Is that why it feels like you have a mind of your own when I’m writing sometimes?”
“Partly. That’s also just part of the process of writing. The problem is you aren’t doing that right now. You aren’t telling my story. You set up this huge reveal that changes everything I thought I knew about my life for the last fifteen years, but you aren’t explaining it. Think about that. I don’t even know who I really am until you sit down and write it.”
“I can’t live up to that pressure though. I don’t know how to tell that story. I screwed up.” I was pleading in exasperation.
“Look it doesn’t matter if you screw it up. Knowing is better than not knowing even if the answers aren’t satisfying. I can’t move forward without them, your readers can’t move forward without them, and you can’t move forward without them.”
“I have the ideas; I just don’t even know how to start.”
“Then don’t start with the start. Just write a scene. It doesn’t have to be the beginning. Then write the next scene or write the scene that led up to it. Just write something and the rest will come. If it’s terrible delete it and start over.”
I thought about his words and did see the logic in them. I could always edit it or just delete whole chunks. Surely some progress would be better than none though. I had a deadline coming up that needed to be met and even if the quality wasn’t there having something to show for it would allow me to get an extension. “Ok, I think I can do that.”
“Of course, you can and if you make me come back and remind you again, I’m not going to stop with just one punch. Hurt, didn’t it? Just think about that as you decide what to put me though.”
As I turned back to my computer, I knew that he was gone. I didn’t hear anything or turn around to see it. I just felt that the room was empty now. I also felt him back in my head as I started to type. The words started to flow out. It wasn’t the first scene in the book. It wasn’t even an important scene. Just a few moments of character development between him and one of the supporting characters. It flowed though. It was a start.