November already. Can you believe it? I know I can’t — last time I checked, it was August, and then I blinked and well–here we are. Right smack dab in the middle of the craziness that is NaNoWrimo. This means that I have officially been working on AMD&B for an entire year.
And what a year it’s been. I’m very close to being done with my third draft at the moment (I was hoping to be done by the 31st. Which I’ll get to in a moment)–so close that I am actually getting a little terrified of being done because that means I’ll have to face what comes next. Querying. Rejection. And hopefully-hopefully-someone who will take a chance on a book about ghosts and magic and friendship and a tiny mountain village. Because I love this book so, so much. I believe in this book. I believe in myself.
But over the last few weeks, I haven’t been very kind to myself.
I think we’ve all been there. We see everyone around us meeting goals, selling books, announcing their daily word counts on twitter. We see our CPs writing beautiful sentences and scenes and chapters. And when they start feeling badly about themselves, when they start beating themselves up, we’re the first people in line to tell them no, they’re being silly. They can do this. They are talented and hardworking and their stories are worth sharing with the world.
It’s funny, really, how easy it can be to give praise to others when we feel they deserve it. To build other people up, to tell them not to be so hard on themselves. To believe in them.
But–in my case, at least–when it comes to believing those things about myself, I fall short. Instead of building myself up or telling myself it’s okay if I take a day and binge-watch Awkward instead of writing or taking a step back when I hit a scene that just isn’t working, I beat myself up over it. I tell myself I’m not good enough, or I’m trying hard enough, or I’m not a real writer. When I plan to be done at a certain date because I have people (well-meaning, I know) asking me when is that book going to be done yet you’ve been writing it for forever and that date comes and I’m still not done, I tell myself I’m a failure. It’s not even a real deadline. How will you be expected to meet a real deadline if you can’t even meet a self-imposed one? I sit on the couch and cry to Eric that I’m letting people down because I wanted to finish this book in one year and instead I’m revising yet again while there are people out there writing books in three months and landing agents and why am I not good enough?
And you know what? It’s ridiculous.
No one is disappointed in me. I’m not letting anyone down. I’m writing the best book I can, the best way I know how. Is it happening more slowly than I expected? Yes. I can’t deny that. But there are reasons for that — I turned one book into two. I’m on my second complete re-write.
Time for a detour. When I was in the sixth grade, I had this miserable, ancient nun for an English and Creative Writing teacher, Sister Thomas Aquinas. I’ll never forget the day she called me up to her desk, handed me back a poem I had written, a big red F scrawled across the top, and said, “Jennifer, this is the worst poem I’ve ever read. It’s awful. I can’t believe you dared to hand this in to me.”
Now, it wasn’t a great poem. But I had tried, and I still think, given the constraints of the assignment (an acrostic poem about Thanksgiving), I’d done pretty well. I certainly didn’t think I deserved an F. I stood there, not quite twelve years old, clutching this sheet of paper in my hands while she continued, “You also haven’t handed in your submission to the state poetry contest.”
I’m still not sure what came over me in that moment–call it temporary insanity, call it bravery, call it sheer stubbornness. Call me a brat, whatever. But I straightened my shoulders, looked her right in the eye, and handed the poem back to her. “Here you go, Sister,” I said. “I want to submit this poem.”
The people who ran the contest disagreed with her, by the way. The first time I saw my name in print was in A Celebration of Young Poets, Pennsylvania 1999-2000, right above that silly little Thanksgiving poem. 12-year-old me didn’t quit. 12-year-old me got such a thrill out of seeing my name in print that I decided, right then and there, that I’d see it again one day.
But that’s not the point of this story. The point is that if I hadn’t been such a stubborn, cheeky brat that day, if I hadn’t handed that poem right back to her and made her eat her words the day the contest winners were announced, I might have given up, I might have believed her. I might have decided that I was bad at writing and never put pen to paper in a creative way ever again.
But I didn’t.
I realized something last week, when it was becoming increasingly clear that I wouldn’t be able to finish AMD&B by the 31st and jump headfirst into the Circus Book for NaNoWriMo, and I was feeling low and miserable over it. I realized that that little voice in my head, the one loves to bring me down? It sounds a lot like Sister Thomas. I’ve been ridiculously and unfairly hard on myself, and I don’t deserve it.
I’m doing the best I can.
I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of this book.
And so from now on, I’m going to be kinder to myself. I’m going to make this book as perfect as I can, and then I’m going to start another. And another. And I’m going to tell these stories the best way I know how.
And I hope that you’ll all be kinder to yourselves, too. I believe in you.