Full Circle

“I only know the joy of diving into the pure and essential world of the story.” ~ Kris Faatz

A few days ago, a writer friend and I traded sympathy about the process. She said, “Sometimes the only thing worse than writing is not writing.”

I often flip back and forth between two moods: pessimism when I’m working and meanness when I’m not. Every writer knows those feelings. And all of us know a nasty truth: the words we labor on so lovingly today may never reach anybody else tomorrow.

Kris'childhood aspirations are captured in this circa 1970s photo: music and books.

Kris’ childhood aspirations are captured in this circa 1970s photo: music and books.

When I was three, I made up my first stories, and when I was six wrote and illustrated a “book” called “The River.” In second grade I devoured and plagiarized from Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. In fourth grade, I got into mythology; in fifth, I traded all earlier loyalties for elves and hobbits; and in sixth, I fell in love immediately and forever with Watership Down. From the beginning I wanted to be a writer, but later tried math and science and finally (I thought) settled on music, which after books had been my first love. Approaching thirty, working as a musician, I drifted back to writing when I decided – no problem! – to start a novel about the colorful, crazy backstage world of the classical symphony.

Seven years later, I’ve rewritten my novel more times than I care to count. In the process, I’ve learned: (a) more about the writing craft than I’d ever imagined possible; (b) that I will study that craft for the rest of my life; and (c) what I want to be when I grow up. My grade-school ambition has been waiting for me all along, though it’s easier said than achieved.

Writing is a strange process. We tell our stories knowing that when we send them out into the world, they – and we – will face criticism and rejection. Our ideas feel pure and essential to us when we sit down to put them on paper, but we wrestle with our own limitations and with the pain that comes when good work gets turned down. Often we feel that our belief in our words has to stand up against the world. Sometimes that belief isn’t strong enough.

I’ve often asked myself why I keep doing this. When the seventy-fifth agent rejection rolls in; when the short story gets turned down again; when I decide that I don’t know how to string a paragraph together, much less 300-plus pages.

It’s because the stories still live in my head. They nudge my brain, wave flags, whisper – or shout – “You can’t quit. Nobody else will tell us.” And sometimes, when I sit down to work, the meanness disappears and the pessimism fades away, and I only know the joy of diving into the pure and essential world of the story.

We don’t know what will happen to our stories once we tell them, but we are the only ones who can. In the end, that’s why I write.