For eight months, my novel went through a series of identity crises.
My high fantasy morphed into magical realism, as I killed my elven darlings and acknowledged the complexity in mere mortals. Like Benjamin Button, surviving characters aged backward: adults becoming youth, teens becoming children. Metaphors peeled and fell off, taking with them the sunny rays of an unrealistic tale. In the end, I was left with a chilling story about a young girl that looks very much like the one I see in the mirror.
It was the story I didn’t want to tell, but the one that fought its way onto the page. And boy, do I mean fight. Imagine my conscious mind, desirous of nothing but light and simplicity, in the ring; its opponent my inner core that fought to be heard.
For seven of the eight months, my conscious mind won. Over and over again, I’d look at this story I’d crafted and struggle to understand what exactly had gone wrong. It was fine, but I was no longer excited. It didn’t feel special. I had the sinking sense that anyone could have written it.
I realized I had been a coward
My favourite books have always been those where the writer doesn’t hold back, where the reader has direct access to the neurotic, inner workings of the protagonist.
Unknowingly, I protected my protagonist, in the same way my psyche had been protecting me from going down that dark hallway of my mind, wherein lay my true story.
To mend things, I recognized I needed to be brave and venture into those nooks and crannies of my mind that most disturbed me.
I began to journal about my innermost fears
What came up was, notably, my tendency to push people away when they got too close, my yearn to flee under such circumstances.
For a week straight I journaled about this, going deeper and deeper, all the while reading psychology paper after psychology paper.
After pouring these deep-rooted anxieties out onto the page, acknowledging that they were more impactful than I’d have liked to believe, I took a few days’ rest. I needed to sit in this puddle of truth before getting back to work on my novel.
I could see clearly
When I returned to it, I was stunned. It was as if my eyes were finally open to what I’d been writing about. Every fear lying within me that I’d just journaled about lay there on the page, only through metaphor. Anything that hadn’t made sense before made sense now. Any loose ends I hadn’t understood well enough to tie up before, were now easily wrapped together. I could, at last, understand what my my mind had done, how it had gotten to craft such symbols in the name of saving me from my pain.
The earlier the draft, the more symbolic
I went back to earlier and earlier drafts, jaw dropping each time as I noted that therein lay my fears too. Only, they were more heavily coated in light and metaphors. It was like I’d been slowly getting braver with each draft, creeping ever closer to that dark hallway.
And that’s when I saw that each struggle I’d been through with each seemingly nonsensical, early draft was necessary. Each pushed me to get to where I am now. Though I may have wished otherwise, I couldn’t have hurried the process along. I had to write about that wild flamingo in the forest in my first draft, in order to write my final scene in my latest draft. Everything was connected.
You can do the same
I share this with you in case you too are stuck in your story, or simply “not thrilled” by it. The grease that gets us unstuck is the same thing that reignites that thrill in our writerly souls: telling our truths.
It’s our job to be brave and whisper to our readers those realities the rest of the world shies away from. After all, they don’t turn to our pages to see that which they can glean from a casual conversation with a friend. They turn to them to see innermost themselves, their inky souls that have them—us—so often feeling so alone.
So, if you find yourself in a rut, just remember these two words: stay true.
Mackenzie Belcastro is a writer of fiction and poetry, and a reader of philosophy and psychology. She also blogs on the writing process, the creative journey, and lifestyle design. For more from her visit https://mackenziebelcastro.com, or @mackbelcastro on all platforms.