Crazy Act of Faith

Riffing off Kathi’s “Tweenland” post…

Many years ago I had the astounding good luck of being invited to join a longstanding critique group that Eloise McGraw was in. One of the rules of the group: Always start with a positive comment. Usually we did, but one time, when Eloise read the first couple of chapters of The Striped Ships, we got so involved in critiquing that we–all of us–simply forgot to say what we liked about the book.

First of all, what gall. Who did we think we were, critiquing Eloise? But that’s what she wanted, so we just, you know, scrambled to find things we didn’t think were quite working. At the same time, though, I think we believed on some level that she wouldn’t really take us seriously. Why would Eloise McGraw pay serious attention to the likes of us?

Still, I felt kind of bad about not mentioning any of the many things I loved about the story. I sent Eloise a note in the mail. The next day, she called me. She was so relieved to get my note. She had been on the verge of ditching the story!

Ditch The Striped Ships? Because of something I said? I can’t even begin to tell you how terrifying that was.

I said to her, “But you’ve written so many novels. You know how to do it, right? I mean, I didn’t think you would ever doubt that you’d be able to pull it off.”

This is when she told me that each novel teaches you to write that book…but not necessarily the next one. That when you begin a novel, you don’t have the skill you need in order to pull it off. Each time you have to somehow find a way to teach yourself what you need to know.

I think this has been true of every book I’ve written. It feels like a crazy act of faith every time.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Crazy Act of Faith

  1. Martine

    Susan, this is so true! I’ve tried to express this before, but you said it beautifully.

  2. Reblogged this on Jackie Lea Sommers and commented:
    This puts into words EXACTLY how I feel. Each new story is its own [beautiful] beast.

  3. susanfletcher2012

    Thank you, Martine and Jackie., I think we do eventually learn this from experience, but it was kind of a shock to hear at that point in my career. It’s also kind of comforting, though, to know that (nearly) everybody feels as wobbly and unsure as I do as I’m finding my way through new territory.

  4. I really needed this, Susan. I totally get what you mean. Every book I write seems so different from the others. Even my process has changed with this current novel.

  5. I love to imagine two of my favorite writers, you and Eloise McGraw, sitting around discussing your work. How lovely, even when not.

  6. susanfletcher2012

    Thanks, Linda! Hope the new novel is coming along. Aw, Leda! But seriously, how lucky could I get.

  7. laurakvasnosky

    This is so encouraging as I keep trying to teach myself to write my work in progress. Thanks for saying this so beautifully.

  8. Ellen Reagan

    Oh, thank you for this, Susan. I think The Moorchild is a perfectly plotted book and assumed its author must be one of those master architects who knew what she was doing at all times. So encouraging to know that she, too, had moments of despair and doubt.

  9. susanfletcher2012

    Thanks, Laura and Ellen. Yeah, see? You would think this might be discouraging, but instead it is encouraging. I guess we all need the assurance that we’re not alone in our struggles. Where did we get the idea that it ought to be easy?.

  10. Yes it’s completely encouraging. Or …kinda depressing:

    From Spanish poet Antonio Machado
    “Traveler, there is no path.
    The path is made by walking.

    Traveller, the path is your tracks
    And nothing more.
    Traveller, there is no path
    The path is made by walking.
    By walking you make a path
    And turning, you look back
    At a way you will never tread again
    Traveller, there is no road
    Only wakes in the sea.”

  11. You said it, Susan, and beautifully! Crazy. Act. Faith. Somewhere in there, perhaps a little chocolate to soothe the soul and sweeten the process. I’m looking forward to hearing how your (fictional) bear is doing.

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