Losing Perspective

I stand by the window this morning, coffee in hand, watching the clouds scud over the mountains. I can barely see them because it’s still mostly dark, but there’s a pale light on the horizon to the east. That sliver of brilliant color turns the clouds from invisible dark-on-dark to charcoal on near black burgandy.

The morning go-to-work crowd rushes past the house in their still snow covered vehicles, climbing the steep hill until they disappear over the crest.

I take a sip of coffee, then let out a sigh, squaring my shoulders. I have reached an inescapable conclusion: my story is crap, my writing is crap. I am crap. I need to turn my life to something else and stop wasting it with the fairytale of becoming a well-read author.

I’m not surprised I have come here. It hasn’t snuck up on me; I’ve felt it building for days – weeks even.

And it’s nothing new.

It’s right on schedule, actually.

Usually in the course of a second draft rewrite, I get lost. My perspective goes right out the window and I stumble. I fall down, right in a puddle, and cry.

I forget this is only a second draft. I forget there are many (many!) more rewrites ahead. I forget the other novels I’ve written to brilliant success. I forget I have lots of people who love what I write. I forget that I’m one of those, when the book is finally published.

I become tunnel-visioned, seeing only the few pages I’m working with right now. I’m caught in the struggle of trying to remember the color of my character’s latest heartthrob’s hair. I’m battle-scarred and a bit jaded from the blank lines between my sentences, where I’m sure there should be something written.

Then I remember my characters are spectacular. My storyline has a unique perspective. I write better than a good percentage of the (famous) published writers. And it’s just the second draft.

Reason eventually returns. I turn back to my notebook, my gaping first draft, put down my coffee and pick up my pen.

I think every writer goes through this. Every novelist, certainly. I’m actually quite surprised we don’t hear more about it.

I also think this is the biggest reason people quit writing. Novices lose perspective and don’t know enough to keep going anyway. Writing is a learned skill. You won’t get better if you don’t keep learning, keep working. I read somewhere, don’t quite remember where, though (You Can Write A Novel, James V. Smith, Jr.), that you need to write 10 novels before you can call yourself an author.

I used to laugh at this. “Certainly rewrites count! And all those unfinished things! What about the ones I don’t write out, but run through in my head to see if I want to write! 10! I’ve written dozens that way!”

But no. I now firmly believe Smith’s assertion. 10 polished novels give you enough experience to know what you’re about, to know your own voice, to be able to withstand those horrible, horrible losses in perspective where the words are too empty and the ideas are too dry.

Give yourself every chance to succeed. Study hard. Work harder. Don’t give up until you’ve got those requisite novels under your belt.

10 novels. I think I’ll get back to work on my #9.

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