The Difficult Thing About Writing

-written by Hearth Member, Marika McCoola

Marika McCoolaI’m at that point with the book I’m working on where I hate it. It always happens about two-thirds of the way through the first draft. The only remedy is to push through it.

The thing about this book, compared with my others, is that it’s realistic fiction. There’s no film of fantasy to give a hint of removal from emotion. Instead, the messy emotions have to be faced directly.

The book deals with self-definition. A twelve-year old coming to realize her own limitations, and creating a definition for herself that is not the one her parents have created. We all struggle with self-definition because as we change (and we are always changing) our definition of ourselves changes, too.

Those of us inclined to analysis, whether due to being writers or training in critical theory or psychology, may be a bit more aware of this process. Some of us keep the a definition on hand (albeit simplified) to pull out in conversation, reassuring ourselves and those around us that we know what we’re doing- even when we don’t.

Now, we arrive at the difficulty in writing (I promise it’s tied up in self-definition). Everyone still holds some of the insecurities they held when they were twelve. They may be buried or unacknowledged in our definition of self, but they’re still there. And the problem with writing about an insecurity that is in my definition, is that it causes me to not only reexamine how I felt at twelve, but to examine it now, at how it fits in my current self definition.

This is why I often find it difficult to talk about a book in progress with anyone but my critique partner before it reaches a certain stage; because talking about the messy emotional arc of a book also lays bare my own emotional being. Not only is one laying out one’s art for critique, one is revealing one’s self.

After over a decade of serious critiques (art school, guys) I can deal with serious critiques of my work. I can even separate my work from myself. But that’s the work. Conversations with someone who knows me personally but who doesn’t know my work is something else entirely. That is a raw conversation, a conversation in which the work and self co-mingle, and something raw and frightening and beautiful is laid bare. Because in that situation, the self is the entry point to the work, and all the insecurities and questions and messy emotions are critiqued. Few things are more terrifying, more emotionally jarring. But it’s probably great for the manuscript.

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