Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Faith in the Story: Believing What You Don't see

In this writing life, you will encounter fear.

It may come to you in any number of incarnations: fear of giving too much of yourself away, fear of rejection, fear of tripping upon little bits of your deepest darkest self you'd rather not see. Criticism from others, however well-intended, can be crippling. I've feared writing would make me crazy. I've feared not writing: what if I woke up tomorrow and simply couldn't do it? Or, what if I keep writing, but no longer enjoy it? What if, in my pursuit to always, always write better, I start to really hate it? What if, the harder I try, the worse I write?

And, each day, I face a particularly harrowing fear: I'm going to open up the document to whatever I'm working on, and, upon reading a few lines, discover just how much it sucks. More than anything, we fear failure, but, don't you think it's actually fear of exposure? Fear others will see the truth about me and how incredibly stupid and naive and untalented I really am?

Fear, as I've seen it, is a crisis of faith. And this, in my world, is where religious faith and writing faith converge. My bible tells me to be still and know that God is God. In my worst bouts of writer-fear, I have to summon the same brand of faith: be still and know that the story exists. The story knows what it's doing even when I don't--sometimes, especially when I don't. I can't see the story at this moment--just like I can't physically see God--but I have to trust it. It's there. Lean on it, risking falling, or, as E.L. Doctorow says, hazard yourself, and only then can you trust its soundness, how very sturdy and there it actually is.

And, maybe the particular document I'm staring out really does suck. Maybe it's unsalvageable. Maybe I really am incredibly stupid and maybe I've wasted over a decade of my life--more--pursuing this writing-thing.

This is flawed thinking. We as a culture are too worried about so-called "wasted" time on pursuits that don't measure up to money or attention. A topic for another post, perhaps, but I really think we all need to evaluate exactly what we mean by the word success. And, on a personal note, I firmly believe that writing is an act of worship in the same way that cabinet-makers worship God by carving wood: any time I use a thing God has given me in the way he intended me to use it, I am worshipping him.

And even if you can't quite do the God-thing with me, and if you're not quite willing to change how you see success, I'm hoping you will grasp the immense beauty of creating. Fear is about me, but the work is about the work. Even if my creation is ultimately no masterpiece, I've done this much: I've made something.

But, also, let's remember the story. It's spirit rather than flesh, but it exists. I believe in it, don't you? I think that's where we let our fears carry us away, where it separates the cabinet-maker from the wood, we are distracted by how much we suck or how much time we're wasting and we forget why we're here: it's all about the story.


Bridget Quinn said...

Susan, this is amazing! Thank you for writing this and sharing it. Not wasted. Not unread. Needed. Necessary. So appreciated.
xxox Bridget

Tracy Crow said...

Yes, this is amazing, Susan, and EXACTLY what I needed to hear (read) this very minute. I'm in the middle, smack in the middle, of a novel manuscript, and have been panicking that perhaps the themes are too thin, too this, too that. Thanks so much for reminding me to appreciate the gift of creating, period. ;)

Susan Woodring said...

Bridget, I'm so glad you found this post useful! Thank you so much for stopping by. I miss our group. Sigh.

Susan Woodring said...

Tracy, thank you for what you posted the other day, Andre Dubus and how to write a novel...I hope you're feeling more confident about things now, but I think he's right that you mostly just feel a number of doubts while you're actually writing the thing, and it's not until you finished that first draft that you see what's working and what needs deepening. I hope you'll share more about how things are going as you move forward with it--

Jessie Carty said...

i like the way you shape your approach to fear. whether or not you worship in the same way, doing what you love is a way of worship/kinship with yourself and the universe. makes me want to go back and read 'The Alcehmist" :)

Valerie Nieman said...

thank you, Susan.

Susan Woodring said...

Thanks, Jessie--I haven't read the Alchemist. Sounds like I need to!!

Val, I'm so glad you stopped by!!

Yeswanth said...
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