Linked in a Chain of Writing Fools

I’ve been writing and rewriting the same novel, a middle grade novel about a girl who rescues a stranded sea otter pup and it saving it finds herself story, off and on for ten years. The switch had been stuck in the OFF position for the past 2 years because lacking the knowledge, energy and/or talent to do what needed to be done to make it readable, I had abandoned it. It wouldn’t stay OFF though, and so in mid-August, as a birthday gift to myself, I flipped the switch and began revisions with renewed zeal. Up until a month ago, Oct. 15th, the work had been going beautifully, I was digging deep, re-dreaming and re-visioning the story rather than simply re-writing, working hard and feeling good about my progress. Then I got busy with school visits and festivals in celebration of my new picture book, Dance, Y’all, Dance, and was simply too dog gone busy to work on the novel. Last week my agent, Erin, sent me an e-mail nudge asking how Otter revisions are coming. I ignored it. She sent another oh-by-the-way query in a note today—which I skipped over without responding. (Let her think I haven’t checked my e-mail yet, I reasoned.) I needed time to figure out how not coming Otter was, and how it might never be coming. Not working on the revisions coupled with the doubts that come from reading brilliant debut novels, including Joy Prebles’ Dreaming Anastasia, which left me feeling humbled and awed and like there was absolutely no way I could write anywhere near as well as she and maybe I should quit trying and who the heck did I think I was? had me close to flipping the switch again. And then this article in O about Junot Diaz comes along.

In it Diaz describes how after publishing his first book of stories he wrote 75 amazing pages of a novel followed by 5 years of writing schlock and finally even quite writing and became “a normal. A square,” he notes, “I didn't go to bookstores or read the Sunday book section of the Times. I stopped hanging out with my writer friends.” And slipped into what he calls his “new morose half-life” before eventually, one hot August night, pulling the novel back out of the box. Finally, a decade after beginning he finished it.

Diaz’s story, as published in the O, The Oprah Magazine, was referenced on author Libba Bray’s blog, which eventually reached my VC classmate-sister-mentor-friend, Cindy who sent the link to our VC class list-serv following a check-in during which several of us noted that our current works-in-progress were messy, ugly, unpublishable scribbles—because that’s what we writers do when we are feeling inadequate, we read and share other writer’s anguished overcoming-our-inner-critic-and-pushing-through-to-published stories.

"That's my tale in a nutshell,” Diaz concludes. “Not the tale of how I came to write my novel but rather of how I became a writer. Because, in truth, I didn't become a writer the first time I put pen to paper or when I finished my first book (easy) or my second one (hard). You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway. Wasn't until that night when I was faced with all those lousy pages that I realized, really realized, what it was exactly that I am.”

Yeah! Me, too Junot! Me, too! Even if there is not hope, even though nothing I am doing is showing any sign of promise, I’m going to keep writing this flipping Otter novel. The switch is back ON!

Thank you Oprah, Libba, Cindy, and any/all other links who helped bring Junot Diaz’s message to me.

Junot Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead) won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008. Read the whole article: