“If you don’t challenge yourself, you won’t succeed.” – a million different people, probably.
As I continue to work on my next project (read: book), I’ve been thinking a lot about how challenging it feels to start over from scratch.
Why am I struggling with this? Did I not just write an entire book (after the 6 books I wrote before it)? Shouldn’t this be easy by now?
Yesterday morning I spent some time journaling, and as I was sorting through my thoughts I came to a (pretty obvious) realization.
Writing a book will always be a struggle. It’ll always feel like the most challenging thing in the world. But why?
In the end, I think that it’s because I (and most of you, probably) always want to be better. We want our next book to be sharper, more compulsively readable, more emotional. We want our plot to be more thrilling. We want our characters to reach out and tap directly on the hearts of our readers a little more insistently.
And the only way to do that is to challenge ourselves to be better, to master new techniques, to always try a little harder. And harder. And harder.
Over the course of the past year I rewrote my manuscript three times, learned a hundred lessons, read two incredible books on the craft of fiction (The Fire in Fiction, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction, both by Donald Maass). I picked out three specific things I wanted to do better in my next project, in addition to all the ones I felt I had mastered in my last one.
Or stay the same.
It’s a horrible realization to know that writing the next project will always be as difficult as the last, if not more so. But at the same time it’s freeing. If I feel challenged, if I’m struggling, I know I’m trying. I know I’m getting better.
Maybe in 40 years I’ll have written 5 bestsellers in a row and penned several Pulitzer Prize winners. I’ll look at all the accolades hanging on the wall in my office, winking down at me with pride, and still I’ll turn to my computer and think, ‘Well, shit, there’s no way I can write this next story. It’s going to be too challenging.’
But eventually I’ll write that one, too. And if I find it difficult, I’ll know I’m doing a good job.
So, for now, I’m happy to embrace the challenge.
For a few weeks, at least. I’m sure at that point I’ll be ready to throw my computer into the wall again.
What about you? Do you feel that each project (writing or otherwise) feels just as challenging as the last?
In addition to everything I feel I mastered in my last book, in this next project I’m focusing on sharper, more wholly defined characters, more memorable dialogue, and fully unleashing my creativity (as opposed to dulling it down to what I think will “sell”, or what I think the market wants to see). No idea is too outlandish for this book – I’m going to write the first draft with creativity, force, and total conviction. Self-editing will come later.
It’s time to work.
What are you focusing on in your next project? Character arc, plot, tension, emotion, creativity?