Take a leap of faith.
Seize the day.
Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined.
Above is a list of motivational sayings meant to inspire us to live our best lives. Heartfelt, they empower us until it’s time to actually leap, seize, be bold or go confidently.
What these phrases fail to mention, is what’s on the other side of the leap. What comes after seizing the day? In a way, they remind me of 60 second videos that showcase weight loss or a beautiful, yet complicated make-up look, making us forget that it takes work to get those results.
The work. The struggle. The grind. The hustle. It’s the underground dirty work that no one wants to talk about because it’s not glamorous. To be clear, those who’ve done the work don’t mind sharing what they did to achieve success, it’s usually those asking who don’t want to hear about the fight.
Well, I’m addressing the work mainly as a way to unpack my emotional reaction to this part of my creative process. If it helps someone else, great, if not, thanks for letting me share.
I can’t pinpoint when I decided I was going to be a romance writer or when I started my manuscript. Either way, my first draft is complete. Saturday, I went to the library to print off my 488-page manuscript. With a copy editor deadline looming, I had to get the story on paper so that I could begin my own editing process before sending it off.
While waiting for it to print, I heard one of the librarians say, “This is someone’s monumental effort.” I shrugged off the comment until I rounded the corner and saw all 488 pages of my manuscript sitting on the counter. I wasn’t excited. In fact, I freaked out. Suddenly, my “leap” had become real instead of a cute catchphrase. Of course, I should’ve been proud of my effort, but I wasn’t. I was very, very scared.
My fear died down then morphed into anxiety as I began to shape the novel with my content editor. This person’s job is to identify areas of the manuscript that need clarity, color, and dimension. This ranges from story structure and flow to paragraphs or lines of dialogue.
The first day of feedback, I was like, “Fuck. This. Shit.”
The second day of feedback, I was like, “No, really. Fuck. This. Shit.”
Writing is an interesting form of artistic expression because the writer spends a significant time alone in their head. We experience doubts, fears, and worries as we figure out how to push through in order to create something worth reading.
But writing isn’t a solo endeavor because after hours, days, weeks, and months alone, we have to share the work in order to make it better. A doctor breaks the bone and sets it so that it heals correctly. Working with editors is the same thing–they have to break the story, ideas, characters, dialogue, and description so that it can be its best self.
Breaking bones isn’t fun, and neither is having your work edited.
I thought I was prepared for this process, but I wasn’t. While I didn’t expect someone to say my work was perfect, I wasn’t ready for my editor to scrunch her face, tilt her head and say things like:
I don’t get this. I don’t understand what you’re doing here.
This line doesn’t fit.
This description isn’t adequate.
This scene doesn’t align with that scene.
Would this character really say that?
Every time we met, I grew more anxious. In my mind, I thought, “What now? Where have I fucked up? What’s not good enough?” That thinking led me to defend my choices because my work, my heart was being threatened. Essentially, I was being judged. Critiqued. But truthfully, I wasn’t the one being judged. The work was. This led me to wonder, how do I separate myself from my work so that someone can break it to make it better?
I followed my instincts and talked to my editor. I explained that after spending months alone with a project, it’s difficult to hear someone show up and highlight all the ways I didn’t get it right. That it’s hard to hear someone say that they don’t understand why a line is present or why a scene doesn’t end a certain way.
Instead of sitting across from me trying to figure out why a scene or line is shitty, I asked them to just tell me, “Chantell, this line isn’t hittin’ and we’ve gotta figure out a way to make it slap.” Before they accepted the request, they made it known that my discomfort with feedback makes editing hard for them as well.
That’s why I’m communicating. Trying to figure out why I’m triggered by critiques. Trying to figure out why they’re so painful. Trying to figure out how to not make my editor uncomfortable. I’m fucking trying. Why am I trying so hard? Because I’m a writer and I won’t give up. I won’t shy away from the difficulty. I won’t run. I won’t back down. Instead, I have to trust the process.
It’s vital that my work is broken so that it can be its best self. Moreover, it’s vital that I separate myself from my work so that as it’s broken, I remain whole.
This takes humility. Communication. Patience. Grace. Trust.
Out of my comfort zone, I must be willing to face the discomfort in order to grow. See, that’s something the motivational slogans fail to mention. So, here are my revisions:
Take a leap of faith but don’t look down.
Seize the day and be prepared for some shit. But it’s okay, you got this.
Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid–the forces may not look like how you imagined so be open.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve always imagined. Also, your confidence will waiver, and inevitably you’ll get lost, but don’t quit. Eventually, you’ll get there.
After all is said and done, a writer fights through the writing process, and self-doubt. They work with an editor and find ways to separate themselves so that the work can evolve. Then, after all of that, they publish it, and share it with the world. That’s the part that used to scare me the most: what would people say about my work?
Who would lambast me on Twitter and why? Who would pop off on my Black characters or why the Faeries in my book don’t align with someone else’s imagination? But the editing process has taught me that some people break work to help it grow while others break it because they can. I’ve decided that I’ll always write books I want to read and that I can’t and won’t make everyone happy. There’s a motivational quote that I do like because it speaks to the realness of putting yourself out there.
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelthttps://www.trcp.org/2011/01/18/it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts/
To put that in 2022 language, it means: who cares what people have to say? They’re not the ones out there. They’re not trying, failing, and trying again. No, they’re sitting behind a screen talking shit about those who are bold enough to put themselves out there.
We’re living in a day where everyone has an opinion. And I believe that if we take on what other people have to say, we’ll never make it to the arena. We’ll never move outside of our comfort zone, into the discomfort of doing something new.
Changing our lives, rethinking our values, putting ourselves out there is scary. But how we handle the fear, the setbacks, and the trials are what separates us from the doers and the shit-talkers.
Be a doer.