“If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”

Talyn -- part that's done, and part that remainsWriting a novel is an exercise in faith — faith in self, faith in story, faith in the process of writing.

Self is the rock-bottom core faith that you dare not lose; you must believe that you can finish the thing in order to finish it. Writing a story is a tightrope walk, and whether you have the net of an outline or are going netless, you raise the tightrope by one foot for every page you need. I started this walk 1250 feet in the air, and I’ve been inching my way toward the ground ever since. My faith in myself holds steady — I have more than a thousand pages behind me, and I’m a bit less than 250 feet from the ground right now. Not so bad.

Except I looked down, lost my balance, and grabbed onto the rope. Hanging head down heels up, the net was gone and the ground with it. At the moment I have nothing beneath my feet but distant stars and the hard, cold vacuum of space. And in front of me, more of the same. No solid ground at the end, no meadows, no friends, no green grass and safe haven, nothing but the blink of the uncaring stars. That’s as much nothing as you can get.

I’ve lost faith in the story — in the ending I’d outlined that is feeling increasingly hollow every day I fight to add pages and fail to get them. Logic says, “Write the damned pages, you can revise them later;” Intuition says, “They’re the wrong pages. You’ve lost something and you have to get it back.”

I’m a logical soul, but story comes more from the subconscious than the conscious, and Intuition owns the keys to the keyboard. So Logic and I are sitting here, stalled, while Intuition, having pointed out the problem, is utterly refusing to take a hand in its solution and equally refusing to hand over the damned keys, stating that she hid them somewhere behind me.

Which takes me to process. I believe in process. Usually writing the pages is process enough, but in a stall that started showing itself last Wednesday and that has become increasingly vicious, sterner measures are required.

Part of the process of writing a novel is knowing that the beginning mirrors the end, fortells it, ties into it. I’m having to go back to the beginning, not to start over, but to begin the one-pass revision early. I need to relocate the threads I looped out at the the beginning of Talyn that I need to be catching and knitting back into the pattern here at the end. I need to be refamiliarizing myself with a story that started so long ago, page-wise, that when I look behind me on my tightrope, I can’t see the cliff to which I anchored it.

I’ll work my way through the revision, pretending that I’ve already written the ending, and when I find the place where friggin’ Inspiration hid the damned keys to the keyboard, I’ll write the ending, print it out, and then go back to where I left off the revision and pick that up.

This isn’t the way I like to work. But every book is different, and the work of writing each book requires a willingness to take a fresh approach, not just to solving problems, but to redefining those problems and creating new solutions. Rote only gets you so far.

I suspect that most writers who get blocked are blocked because they’ve lost faith either in themselves or in their stories. If you lose your faith in yourself, it helps to have a backlog of finished projects, no matter how awful, that let you know you can reach the end of the current one. If you don’t have that, and you don’t have a firm hand on process, you can stall out just about forever, clinging to your tightrope over your abyss, maybe close enough to the end that you could jump to the ground, but too afraid to move. The only real solution to loss of faith in self is just to finish the project. Inch forward, upside-down if you have to — eventually your butt will hit the ground and you’ll know you’re home, even if you can’t see it. And finishing one will give you the faith to finish the next one.

If you lose your faith in your story, you have to go back and look at why you chose to start across this particular tightrope. Look to the beginning, not with an eye to rewriting it or throwing it out, but just to find what you loved and what you set out to accomplish.

I don’t think too many people lose faith in process. Process is using mechanical means (individual habit, the physical acts of writing or typing, the mental act of reading material previously written, outlining, working in short intervals, working in long intervals, mapping, mind-mapping, etc.) to uncover secrets hidden from the writer by the writer’s own subconscious. Process is the physics of writing; without some knowledge of it, you venture into the writing of a novel at your own peril. The more you know process, the less you have to believe in process — though there are some times, admittedly, when it feels like magic. Process is its own solution, so long as you know it and are willing to do some machining and retrofitting to make it work.

So back to faith. Sting sings, “If I ever lose my faith in you — there’ll be nothing left for me to do ….” He may be right. But his direction isn’t particularly helpful, is it?

I think I’d better go with Kenny Loggins on this one. “Where are the dreams that we once had? This is the time to bring them back … One day we’re brave enough to talk with conviction of the heart.” (From “Conviction of the Heart”)

Or maybe just Billy Joel. “I’m keeping the faith … oh, oh, oh, oh keeping the faith.”

And the picture up at the top? Pile on the left is the part that’s done — just finished printing it out. Pile on the right? That’s the absolute maximum that remains, to be written, including new interstitial scenes in the early parts of the manuscript, plus the ending. Less than 250 pages total.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

19 comments… add one
  • Adarious Mistdancer Nov 10, 2003 @ 6:48

    A tad off topic I suppose. Have any of you any insight into something that seems to plague me? (notes to check forums later)…. I have an uncanny issue other than with poetry of mind mind farting to blankness when I attempt "writing" with a computer. I seem to be able to write easier with pen and paper.

    However, as I am used to a computer keyboard and have been for so long, pen and paper writing has become a serious chore. . . to the point of being an utter turnoff. So I am searching for a way past the blockade with ‘writing’ on a pc so I can further utilize my computer for things other than the ‘net’ and gaming.

    My site linked to my name has contact information for me. Which brings me to another question. Desiree, if you see this..or a friend of her sees this … I would like some contact info for her as well.

    Until our paths cross once more I bid ye all farewell.

  • Jim Woosley Nov 8, 2003 @ 8:53

    FWIW…

    In light of your more recent posts, in reviewing this I was reminded of John Ringo’s afterwords in "Dance with the Devil" and "Hell’s Faire."

    "Hell’s Faire, he revealed, was just the last 1/4 or so of "Dance," with added material to bring it to novel length. A contingency necessitated by a deadline unrealisticly close — after the fact — to September 11, 2001.

    (And here, I had figured that someone had told him that instead of writing one 750 page novel, he could write 2 400 page novels and make twice the money. 🙂

    The times we’re in affect everyone’s quality of work. And affects everyone’s priorities.

    You have to do what you have to do to survive; one of those is reliance on friends to support you — and Bounce gives you access to a large number of supportive friends. (OK, and a few others, but… 🙂

    I’m probably the last person to give advice on good time managment, and you’ve gotten excellent advice elsewhere. Certainly, just turning off the news and trying to ignore it is an "if the eye offend thee, pluck it out" sort of solution (and I’ve got a marvelous sermon out of it — if I ever get this novel on track, I think that will be the topic of the "middle" sermon by the fundamentalist minister character 🙂

    But to get back on topic, that may be the approach you have to adopt. Ration your news time. Though with your personal interest in events, that might make worry worse.

    It might also help to turn some of your energy into creative endeavors. Not necessarily on Talyn — if you cannot fit current events into Talyn, maybe you can work on another novel proposal (or if you haven’t begun outlining the follow-on novel of the Talyn contract, be thinking about that in the context of current events). If your "negative" energy is channeled into creative purposes, it should help recover your equilibrium with Talyn.

  • Joel Nov 5, 2003 @ 2:19

    Holly,

    It’s been a while but I just remembered. Any plans to release a Mugging the Muse version 2? I remember you had discussed it in the past….

  • Desiree Nov 4, 2003 @ 14:11

    Holly, I know that right now what you need are the words, but all I have to offer is my faith in you. I’ve read your work and believe that the words will come. Sometimes knowing that someone else has faith in you helps to fill the glass back up to full.
    Blessed Be,
    desiree

  • Alex Nov 4, 2003 @ 4:27

    I’ve never been in this situation before, but I can imagine how hideous it must be. To find that something you’ve lived with for so long is no longer working; to find that you’ve lost faith in your work. Don’t give up!

  • Sheila Nov 4, 2003 @ 1:32

    If anyone knows this road, it’s you. Hang in.

  • Kelsey Nov 3, 2003 @ 23:26

    I’ve been in the same spot–where my ending no longer fits my story and nothing is tying together, although by the rights of a detailed scene-by-scene outline, it should have. Unfortunately, I never finished. I gave up, and I regret it. I will probably finish it someday, but I lost faith and let the obstacles mount up and overwhelm me into quitting.
    Maybe what you need is a good long meditation. I’ve read your article on finding silence. It makes sense. It has helped the few times I’ve tried.
    Maybe you are doing it every day and it isn’t working. Or on the other hand, maybe that taming-the-mind is something you needed to be reminded of. Heck, who knows.
    Forgive me if my comment is useless. I wish you strength to find your way, and I hope everyhting works out. Good luck!

  • Jim Woosley Nov 3, 2003 @ 22:24

    What Katherine said….

    This is a longer book, and if you feel you’ve written yourself into a hole, it is only natural that the hole feels deeper and that you need a different method of getting yourself out.

    On some reflection, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that one reason for delay of my much-delayed first novel is that lack confidence in the story. The concept has grown over the years as I’ve added things, and maybe I’ve added things that don’t need to be there. (Or maybe the fact that all but one of the decent people in the book end up dead has something to do with it, or the fact that the character’s spiritual journey no longer parallels my own.)

  • Maripat Nov 3, 2003 @ 19:25

    Hi Holly!

    I can’t say I’ve been where you are now, but I do know when the writing stalls it just sucks. But I think you’re right. There’s a reason for this. Right now that reason’s hiding. Good luck with going back a step and trying to find your way.

    Maripat

  • Jean Nov 3, 2003 @ 18:37

    I think Katherine may have something there.

    And I have to agree with Linda. In a snag, you compose a wonderful essay and inspire us with your insight.

  • MishaM Nov 3, 2003 @ 17:53

    Holly:

    I’m pulling for you. I’m horribly stuck, stuck, stuck, too.

    One thing I’ve noticed about you lately is that you seem to be going through the same kind of suspense as Talyn should be going through about this stage in the novel, right? Feeling she won’t make it, but having enough strength to try it anyway? Perhaps she hesitates, too, unsure and looking for the right inspiration?

    Is there any way to channel the things you’re feeling/doing right now into your character? Maybe your inspiration is right there with you after all?

    Not that I have a clue what I’m talking about…!

  • Joel Nov 3, 2003 @ 17:17

    I thought those were tile 🙂

  • Katherine Nov 3, 2003 @ 15:06

    You probably know this better than I do, but maybe this is a good time for a reminder: Longer works are qualitatively different from shorter works. A novel is a very different beast from a short story, and requires different methods. Maybe a massive doorstop novel on the scale of Talyn is enough different from the shorter novels you’ve written up until now to require different working methods and a different structural approach?

    It may be a tightrope, but maybe if you let go you’ll discover there’s a trampoline at the bottom to launch your work to new heights?

  • Scott Nov 3, 2003 @ 14:03

    This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic – but that lamp looked so familiar that I had to cut-and-paste the picture and then blow it up sop see if it was the same as the one on my nightstand. Nope, but it did give me a nice break from the frustrating tasks at hand.

  • Linda Sprinkle Nov 3, 2003 @ 12:48

    So, you hit a snag and your first solution is to write a wonderful, inspiring essay that will help the rest of us as well as yourself. That’s why you’ll get there. Because you look at what’s going on, figure out something to do, and if that doesn’t work, do something else until you figure out what will work. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

  • Indie Nov 3, 2003 @ 11:48

    Wow, Holly. I’d like to say that i know what you’re going through, but I don’t. It sounds bad, but I know you can beat it, and find those Keys. Just you go, girl! (I’ve said that too many times already, but it expresses my sentiment!) When you finish the book, you’ll be able to party that much harder. 😀

  • Brady Nov 3, 2003 @ 9:48

    Despite my unmitigated bitchiness a month or so ago, Holly, you are and will continue to be an inspiration. I mean, it looks like you’ve written at least three reams of paper so far. That’s amazing.

    Since you bring up Billy Joel, I’ll quote another of his lyrics: "But I survived all those long lonely days/when it seemed I did not have a friend/’cause all I needed was a little faith/so I could catch my breath and face the world again."

    Good luck.

  • Jean Nov 3, 2003 @ 9:42

    Oh, and that 1000 page stack looked so good, I had to go back and look again to see that there was, in fact, a smaller stack next to it!

  • Jean Nov 3, 2003 @ 9:34

    Good "out of box" thinking. Your plan will work. When you find where Inspiration hid the keys, we’ll tickle her until she apologizes. But She may have a very good reason for doing so–which you are about to find.

    I see the tightrope starting to shift back when you said you had too much and needed to cut it down. You challenged the entity that likes to take us up on those unintended challenges. Seventeen years ago, I stopped saying, "It can’t get any worse than this," because it can.

    Looking for quotes? Mine may help–check out my tagline on the site. To paraphrase, "write like you don’t need the money."

    I know its lonely right now, but the audience out beyond the bright lights is pulling for you. And I checked–the tigers are secured.

    One pass revision away! You’ll be just fine.

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