trap doors that open / I spiral down
I’ve been trying to write a book since I was in high school. At first it was a novel, then it became a collection of short stories. Several scrapped chapbooks, an Amazon Prime novella and a failed attempt to serialize a narrative poem and I haven’t reached this goal. Currently I’m trying to put together a working selection of novellas that seem to represent a certain moment in my life. Regarding my writing, these novellas seem to represent an authorial peak in terms of narrative pathos and storytelling. Each narrator is complex and flawed, a raw yet heavily adulterated permutation of myself, and I look at their emotional honesty as a sort of testament to my own personal development. Nonetheless, every time I read over these works, taking them out of the “resting” period I afford all of my longer works before beginning the same self-deprecating editing process, I realize how much more I need to read, how much more I need to grow before I am ready.
Since I was a child I’ve had fantasies of being a novelist. Some of my earliest memories involve me dictating stories to my mother because at that point I didn’t know how to type. I enjoyed the idea of invented fictitious worlds, was fascinated by the possibility to briefly inhabit another life, another person’s carefully-crafted experiences. I suppose it stems from my hyperactive imagination, constantly conjuring up false realities to entertain me. There are countless little stories that I have begun writing, only to put them down because the idea is not fully developed, or because I realize that the story’s plot is meaningless or because I’m unsure of a decent approach. What few works I have finished I usually just sit on, too afraid to send them off lest I am reminded that I have so much more to learn. I would look at young published writers like Christopher Paolini and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and strive towards publishing before an arbitrary age, like 17, which became 19, which became 21. At a certain point in college, my mother told me that I had my entire life to publish and that I should strive towards writing something deserving of publication through living and reflecting on life. And so I oriented my life away from this anxiety-inducing process of writing and editing and submitting and editing and resubmitting. I focused more on having organic experiences and reflecting on those moments, in order to hopefully develop and grow as both a person and a writer.
At this point, I am twenty and I haven’t published any of my longer pieces. I have written one novel, four novellas, and have two more works in process, the likes of which I have been working on for over a year now. My earliest works, which I wrote in high school, I’ve set aside, mostly because the work represents a particularly angsty and stagnant part of my life which I prefer to leave in the past. I’ve told myself “There’s something here” and I’ve vowed to return to them, but not now, still in the midst of the healing process, a regeneration from all I thought I knew when I was younger. Attempting to find my place in the world, my writing has grown to reflect more or less my fear of rejection and an anger at our inability as people to develop compassion and understanding for one another. My characters are small, timid and shallow because they are afraid that if they were to reveal who they really are, to lay all of their cards flat on the table, the people to which they are sharing their innermost selves will only laugh at what is there, will only prove their greatest fears.
My work is sad, because I realize that is through sadness and frustration that I am most saliently able to write my own experiences into being. I infuse my characters with my fury, I cry through my narrators, and their pain and suffering are mine. While this may seem positive, showing that there is some legitimate emotion in my work, I nonetheless find the process of editing my work triggering. There is not only this authorial anxiety, a voice from a region in my mind whispering “you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough” but there is also a tightness in my chest as raw emotion floods my mind with each page of my drafts. Reading through my work is a labor, and I understand the exhaustion I feel after editing to be a sign that I am not ready yet, that I still have a lot to learn, and a lot of growing to do.
I’m young, I know. With some luck, I will live for another sixty years, have all of that time to develop and grow as a person, get the credentials to publish one of my works and hopefully reach someone. I like to tell myself that it’s okay to take each day as it is, to continue writing so as to develop the craft, and that one day, I’ll write something which I think really matters to the world. Nonetheless, as I write each piece, I find myself giddy in the writing process, saying to myself “this is it, this is the firestarter” only to finish, begin editing and find myself inundated with the same bitter emotions which produced each work.
In a similar vein, the journals that I keep to capture my thoughts in times of sadness or anger are equally difficult to read, although those were never meant for public consumption. I keep those journals just so I can talk to someone in those times when it feels like no one is willing to listen, or that no one will really understand. Through those journals I develop a somewhat honest rapport with my inner self, that man-child who constantly finds himself the victim of everything. In a fit of fury, I scribble down my thoughts, drifting in and out of grammar, prose poetry – and I shut the book, keep all the negative energy caught inside. I have tried so many times to reread my thoughts, only to find the toxicity of my feelings too much to deal with. My novellas, to a certain degree, are no different.
I find that I am in a certain limbo, unsure of how to move forward, of how to make my work accessible and enjoyable to people, for it seems impossible to understand and to enjoy even for me, as its writer. It all makes me wonder if this is the right craft/path, if I should just give up and write my academic papers and publish tomes on postcolonial theory that few people will read. It makes me wonder if I am even likable enough to be read, or if I have much to offer to the world, other than the essays on this blog.
I’m not going to quit just yet though. While I haven’t published any longer works, I’m slowly building a portfolio for myself of my shorter pieces, getting my name out there. I cannot focus on what my peers are doing, cannot use their success as a reason to tear myself down. I have to stay hopeful and motivated, because I do believe that my work can help someone, because it has helped – and continues to help – me.