Most of them–Danny and Jill spring immediately to mind for some reason–come from a pretty dark place. Others, not so much. I’ve had some scary experiences in my life (and something tell me I will have still more, life being what it is.) Some of those scary experiences are fuel. Others are just…there. They don’t go into books, they’re too personal. I have to come to terms with them in other ways.
Using the fuel of scary experiences can be good. It can help you process, it can help you deal. There are several different types of artistic fuel, however, and getting hooked on one to the exclusion of all others is a chancy proposition. Art does not live by one fuel alone–and trying to make it can have bad effects on you.
Case in point? Well, me. I’m in a state of highly personal, highly charged change right now. Some of the fuel I was using while I was miserable five years ago, or two years ago, or six months ago is no longer around. I don’t have that whip to push myself on. I am, to put it bluntly, afraid that if I get healthier or happier I will no longer be able to peer into those dark places or face them with the courage needed to pull those characters out of the shadows.
Most of me knows this is silly. As someone wise recently told me, “Those miseries were ways you had of coping and surviving. They worked to keep you whole and protect you. They’ll still be there if you need them again.” I know it’s true–I can put them back in my toolbox and get them out if I need them.
But, dear Reader…I’m scared. I’m scared the characters won’t talk to me if we don’t have the pain-points in common. I’m terrified that I’m a one-trick pony. I’m scared that getting healthier and happier will change something in my makeup and send me spinning and careening off into the woods, where my career will die a lonely death and I’ll end up hungry on the street.
I know it’s not rational. I know I’m feeling this because change is inherently frightening. When you add personal change to the cauldron of insecurities writing can and does uncover, it’s about as comfortable as bathing in a tub full of very angry cobras.
So how do you get through? How do you reassure yourself the words will still be there even if you change?
I suppose a simple answer is faith, with a large helping of stubbornness. I did not get to where I am today by listening to the fear or letting the rejection stop me. The words have been there during every other damn change in my life; this one just feels different because I’m suffering it OMGNOW! Time will add a measure of perspective that will drain my panic.
None of this helps with the agony of indecision, fear, and agitation I am experiencing, yea even at this very moment.
Which gives me hope. Over the course of a book, I take people apart. I feel their agonies while I whack away every single solid thing they rely on and put them through the wringer. They risk everything because they have no choice. It’s who they are, and living requires the courage to do no less.
I guess we’re not so different, my characters and me. Which brings me to my bone-deep stubbornness again. If they can make it through everything I can throw at them, I can make it through this. Jill would set her chin, glare out of her mismatched eyes, and stride forward. Danny’s thumb would caress the katana’s guard, and she’d wear that little half-smile. Kaia would grin and brace herself. Even Theo, the calmest and sweetest person I’ve ever written, would fold her arms and get that determined little glint in her eye.
No, they’re not (and never will be) me. But the strength to write them is and always has been mine. If I’ve lost the fuel of misery I’ll find something else to burn. If I’ve kept the fire going this long, I’ll likely find something else to throw on it. I have to trust–not my gods, not my characters, not other people. I have to trust in my own willingness to let the words come through me. I have to trust that I’m still interesting even when I’m not broken. That this will only make me stronger and better.
I’m not my characters. They can still teach me something. And I can look back on creating them and know there’s no shortage. Remember? My job isn’t to make the magic. My job is to show up every day.
I can do that. No matter how scared I am.