As a kid, the entire Christmas season lead up to that moment on Christmas morning when I got to open up all my presents. I’d wake up long before the sun had even considered peeking over the horizon, run into my parents’ room, and let them know that it was TIME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It was a big moment.
There are a lot of Christmas mornings in life of a writer. The day you get that book deal. The day the you receive a starred review. The day your book wins that award. (You know the one I’m talking about.) These moments stand out there on the horizon, beckoning us toward them, and promising so much happiness and fulfillment if we can just get there.
One of the reasons it’s so easy to get lost in our big author fantasies is because the writing itself is so hard. When you write you don’t just have to reinvent the wheel, you have to reinvent the axle it attaches to and the motor that moves the axle and then you have to create the body of the car and the people in it and the place they’re going and then you have to give them a good reason to be going there but also a good reason not to be going there and so on and so forth until your head just hurts and you have to go lie down in a dark room for a while. Creating stories seems impossibly complicated, yet we do it, and we do it well.
You do it. I do it. Each of the Hamline MFA faculty do it. We all sit down with our words, and we all know what to do. Yes, we get help from critique groups and teachers and editors and books and blogs and many, many other sources, but we still sit down alone. And alone, somehow, we manage.
I think we sometimes wait for the world to tell us we are good enough before we let ourselves believe it. I think that’s another reason why those big moments feel so important to us. We’re waiting for that external validation. I got that validation last summer when I sold my book. And I felt so confident—for a while. But when I actually sat down to write again, the warm fuzzies had all worn off and all the doubt had returned. Nothing had changed except for the fact that I now owed someone a book—a book that had to be good enough to publish. (Cue that famous Queen and Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure.”)
The day I got my first set of feedback from my editor was one of the scariest days of my life. How was I ever going to do what she was asking me to do? Then, I actually read the feedback. Then, I actually sat down and started working through it. Four days later I had a new first chapter. And this new chapter was better than the old one. So. Much. Better. Then, I started working on chapter 2. Then, chapter 3. Eventually, coming to the chair became easier. (Notice I said easier, not easy.)
Everyday, right before I sit down, I wonder if I can really do it. My heart starts racing, and I get this intense urge to clean the toilet or go grocery shopping or reorganize the basement. But then I sit down anyway. And prove to myself, once again, that I can do it.
I am always good enough to do this work, but only when I’m sitting down and actually doing it.
Will there come a day when the fear of not being good enough is completely gone, and I will skip and dance my way to the chair every morning? I’ve not been doing this long enough to know. What I do know is that the longer I go without writing, the more scared I get of it. And the more I write, the easier it becomes.
The biggest and most important moments of this writing life are not the sales or reviews or even the awards. For every December 25th of the year, there’s also a December 18th and a September 21st and an April 4th. It’s the other 364 days of the year that really matter. That’s when we prove to ourselves over and over and over again that we can actually do this work.
I moved my writing chair into the living room next to the Christmas tree. My days of spending the season waiting for that big Christmas morning moment have long since passed. Now my favorite Christmastime moments are those small ones, like right now, when I’m wrapped up in a blanket, sitting by my tree, watching a glittery snowflake twirl back and forth, and writing.
Originally published on December 18, 2014 on the Hamline MFAC blog The Storyteller’s Inkpot. Posted today because it’s March 20th, one of those other 364 days.