I recently completed the Muskoka Novel Marathon for the third time, which, considering we raised over $30,000 to support adult literacy programs, is amazing, but this year that marathon was at times, a painful struggle. As I reflect, sitting on my deck, watching my cats make peace after an earlier squabble, I realized that I as well needed to forgive. To forgive myself for poor writing and to give myself permission to write, even poorly.
At the marathon, I was working on the final novel of a trilogy, which, if you have ever embarked on a series, I am sure you will understand is fraught with all kinds of frustrations and additional challenges. I had the courage to start and complete a novel and then, discovering the story wasn’t completely told, I endeavoured to plot out three connected yet independent stories. The second novel seemed to in some ways write itself, while the third has been like driving a car with bad gas. One moment, you think it’s rolling along nicely to your destination, and then it starts chugging and your momentum ceases.
At this year’s Muskoka Novel Marathon, I learned a very valuable lesson. Scratch that, I learned many valuable lessons.
- Allow yourself to write and write badly. My creativity at the start of the marathon was stilted and I couldn’t seem to put words to the page. It took some soul searching and meditation to discover I was afraid of writing poorly. For the past year, I have been dedicating most of my writing time, editing and revising my first two novels. There are many things that I wrote for the first two, which have been cut, shelved and buried. This was necessary work, but the pain of putting away words that will never be shared, fed a fear I didn’t even know I had. When I sat down to continue writing the adventures of my character, I discovered I didn’t want to write anything I would have to cut or change, so therefore, I was terrified to write forward in any direction.
- Accept and forgive yourself for writing off your path and for writing what’s needed in the moment. In revising an opening chapter, I found three paragraphs that were complete and boring summary and shameless telling. I was disappointed in myself until I read the rest of the chapter. The fact is, I needed to write those summary paragraphs so I knew where I was and how to begin. Write what you feel you need to and cut it out later.
- Give yourself permission to write where your heart leads. As much as you may think you have constructed the most amazing, detailed and comprehensive outline, if your character wants to turn left instead of right, or stop all together, or quit and roll up in a ball and roll, then let them. Allow yourself to tell the story you are hearing. You might just surprise yourself and enchant your reader.
- If what you have written doesn’t work – who cares? Give yourself permission to write complete and utter crap and then to write it all again. If that scene you wrote doesn’t fit, then write a new one.
- Don’t be afraid of the fact that you will need to re-write, edit and revise your writing. Perhaps this is easier said than done, but accept the fact that you will never write what you intend to publish on your first try. Editing and re-writing is a guarantee. Forgive yourself for it.
- Remember that you love writing. Remember the joy of allowing yourself to tell the story you hear in your head and the bliss of sharing that story with others and having them find meaning. Put down the dish towel, put in the ear plugs, hide on your deck with a coffee and the singsong of the doves and write. Don’t be afraid to let it out.
I have often heard people at conferences and writing meetings and on writers blogs tell writers – just to write. To free hand. To sit down and let is all out, not to edit while you write and not to worry over the direction you are heading in. I never got the wisdom of this until I forgave myself for the terrible words and gave myself permission to tell the story that needed to be told in the moment.
At the end of the marathon, after three full days and nights of writing, I have 30,000 more words of that third novel written, and although there are many parts that will never make the printed page, as I read it over, there are scenes that make me laugh out loud and parts that make me cry, so I can forgive my slow start because I know the agony of allowing myself to write a first draft has been well worth the effort.