My mother has finished reading my novel.
She is the first person to read the whole shebang. Of course she is: these are the kinds of things only mothers can be counted on to do (just ask Gustave Flaubert).
What’s Lizzie’s great line? “I am half agony, half hope.”
It’s a first draft, gosh—not even a full first draft. Friend, I have written 118,000 words and I am only halfway through my storyline. That’s a problem. A big problem, one the size of 90,000 words or so. It means there’s a lot of crap in there. I know this, and believe it to be true. But when I come to the page, sword in hand, ready to slash, they all feel like darlings, every 118,000 of them. But they’re going to go; they’ve got to. So I am elated: at the perspective that awaits, and the slashing that will come, at honesty that only a mother can provide.
Which is also, of course, why I’m terrified. “What if it’s bad?” I wonder. “Of course it’s bad.” I quip back. All first drafts are bad. There a snake pit of plot holes, characters that need more work, characters that need the guillotine, and whole storylines that should be shot dead.
…”But what if it’s bad?” I wonder again. And I know what my brain is really getting at. What if it’s BAD-bad. Not just first-draft-bad. What if I’m the writerly equivalent of those poor fools they let on American Idol? The ones whose mothers were never honest. They go their whole life thinking they’ve got a voice. I’ve sort of gone my whole life thinking that, too.
I shudder a little to think of it and know it’s not the early October air that’s steadily creeping onto my porch. As I grapple with the fear of exposure, I think about the Steven Pressfield line that has stuck with me for almost ten years. The one that first pulled the curtain back on it all.
“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.””
I pray he’s right.
And mom, if you’re reading this, for the love of God: be honest.