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Writing Through Uncertainty (With a Writerly Life Jacket)

Please forgive me in advance, but this is going to be an unusual post. Writing-life-wise, I’ve been feeling a bit out of sorts, you see. And it seems to have had an effect on my WU essay routine.

I normally write my WU essays about a week in advance. I like having a cushion. I even have a warning notification set up in my Outlook calendar for one week prior to each of my scheduled pub days. Last week, when that day blew by with no essay idea in sight, I still wasn’t too concerned. It’s happened before. Something would occur to me. Well, at the three-days-to-go mark, I started to worry. And I started a post. Then another. And another. This is pretty much how my weekend went. I took all three attempts to about 500-700 words before abandoning them. But in each case, I just wasn’t feeling it. I realize now that I was trying to force it.

Get this: a couple of the attempts were “craft instruction” type posts. Let’s face it—when it comes to essays, I’m not the instructor type. I guess if I had to describe it, my essay style would be something like: “Here’s what’s going on in my writing life and with my work; this is what I’ve come to recognize and/or believe; hope you can relate, and that I’ve made you feel less alone.”

So here I am, on the last day, starting my fourth attempt. And I thought, well, maybe I ought to just write about what’s going on in my writing life and with my work. Here goes nothing.

The Circumstantial Evidence

Allow me to start by offering an overview of my circumstance. I’m working on a trilogy. Book one is out on submission. I have a draft of book two, which is still out to a few remaining beta-readers. And I’m about a quarter of the way into a draft of book three (trying to gather all the threads of the first act).

I have no evidence that book one will sell. I’m not sure how much revision work there is to be done on book two (or book one, for that matter). And Book three is putting up one helluva challenge. Not that feeling challenged is a bad thing. Quite the contrary—I consider it a good sign. Still, I introduced several new characters and subplot-lines in book two, and I’m not exactly sure how the new elements will weave into the resolution. I really want this final book in the story to live up to its potential, to be as moving and powerful as my gut says it can and should be. I hope I’m up to it.

In addition to the writing stuff, last June when I finished a draft of book two, my wife and I came up with a list of home maintenance chores and repairs to attend to over the summer. I have about three-quarters of the list checked off, but the smell of autumn is definitely in the air, bringing the motto of House Stark [1] to mind. A few of the unfinished repairs are weather-dependent. I need stuff to dry out, and we’ve had one of the wettest summers on record.

All of these aspects of my circumstance have something in common: uncertainty. I recognize that this is why I’m feeling out of sorts.

Focusing On the Good Stuff

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for sympathy. None of us gets a guarantee that what we’re working on will sell. We all face challenges on the page, or we’re not doing it right. I’m sure we can all agree that uncertainty is a big part of the writing life. It’s one of the few things I’m certain about.

And yet, this feels a little different. I suppose once I factor in a hectic spate on our social calendar, an oncoming (and vital!) election, some minor health concerns (seriously, minor stuff but I’m no spring chicken), and a dash of extended family obligations, it’s easier to see why I’m feeling off kilter.

But if there’s one thing I know about myself, it’s that when I’m feeling any amount of overwhelm, I do better by taking things one at a time. Today, I’m taking on my WU essay. That’s it. Everything else will still be there tomorrow.

It also helps to focus on the good stuff that might have otherwise floated on by as I paddle up the river of uncertainty. And it just so happens, something positive did float right to me recently. And it’s something I’m guessing most of you will identify with.

A few evenings ago, my wife finished reading the book two manuscript. Please understand that, for her circumstance, this is no small feat. My wife is currently at the height of her professional prowess, and at the top of her field. The economy is roaring, and she is rocking and rolling—as busy and productive as I’ve seen her since the days when we were business partners. Reading a new draft of a manuscript of a story which she’s read in previous incarnations, after having discussed in detail most every key element with the author as it’s being composed, is hardly something I’d expect her to make a priority. In fact, if I had my druthers, I’d have put lots of other things ahead of it—sleep, for example. And yet she made the time, catch as catch can.

The night she finished, we had a lovely conversation about the added nuances. She told me the story pulled her right through, that it lives up to the promise of book one, and that she’s proud of me… You know, supportive stuff.

Not that I’m poo-pooing supportiveness, or that she’s not insightful, or a good line-editor—she is! It’s just that she provides wise guidance throughout the writing process. But what I took from her summary of the whole is that her belief in these characters, this world, and this story remains steadfast.

In regard to that, allow me to take a moment to publicly express my deepest gratitude to her. Her inspiration, encouragement, and especially her fierce and enduring support, are gifts I will never take for granted. Without them, you wouldn’t be reading this essay right now. Full stop.

Quick Writerly Public Service Reminder: All of you who have the full support of a partner surely recognize what a wondrous blessing it is. (Your version might be a parent, offspring, a sibling, or a bestie.) Today—like every day— is a good day to remind them how appreciated they are. (Thanks, Honey!)

Swimming With a Life Jacket

As a result of the aforementioned off-kilter-ness, I suppose I’ve been pretty quiet of late. Which led WU Editorial Director Therese Walsh to kindly reach out to check on me. She generously listened as I explained my circumstance. Now, for those of you who are unaware, T is not only a top-notch editorial director, a genuine story-whisperer, and a wonderful friend, she’s also extremely wise. I mean, old soul wise. She gave me a boatload of helpful advice, and among the cargo, she encouraged me to—through it all—keep going on book three. I joked that, yes, I should take Dory’s advice (from Finding Nemo) [2] and “Just keep swimming.”

T immediately agreed that swimming would carry me though, even if some days it felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. “Swimming is a lot like writing, isn’t it?” she said. “You have to keep moving or you’ll sink. But the more you do it, the stronger you’ll become, too!”

It’s so true. And when I focus—not merely on book three, but on the current scene and its specific crop of characters—I feel empowered. And certainly less adrift. I know I’m becoming a stronger writer for it.

But I also recognize the buoying effect provided by those who are there for me—particularly my wife. Do you know I actually googled ‘life preserver you can still swim in,’ and there is such a thing? Made of a fabric called USLON [3], these suits fit just like regular swimwear. Not only is your movement unimpeded, you’re able to get the full benefit of a swimming workout. Plus, the added buoyancy instills confidence, allowing you to “paddle the extra mile,” so to speak.

So here I am. This is what’s happening in my writing life, and with my work. This is what I’ve come to recognize: I have been feeling out of sorts. But oh, I am supported.

This is what I’ve come to believe: I’m a lucky writer. And a grateful one.

I will keep swimming. Even when it feels like I’m headed upstream. Even in uncertain currents, I’m buoyed. I know I won’t sink. And I’m certain I’m getting stronger.

I am writing through uncertainty (with a writerly life jacket).

Thanks for staying with me though my unusual post. I hope you can relate, and that I’ve made you feel less alone.

How’s your circumstance? Do you just keep swimming through uncertainty? Who’s your writerly life jacket? Have you thanked them lately for keeping you afloat?

[Image is by Peerajit Ditta-in @123RF [4]]

About Vaughn Roycroft [5]

In the sixth grade, Vaughn’s teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.