Do you ever get so full that you can’t tell what you actually feel?
I don’t mean full from eating too much. I know what full from that feels like. I mean full from things that are going on. What you think and feel, that glimpse of freedom and something more elusive that comes to us rarely. In Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery called that something “the flash.” That term has stuck with me, and that’s how I think of it now. Sometimes I feel it so strongly that I can’t figure out what my emotions are. I usually cry, but I don’t think I’m sad. It’s something beyond that. It’s beyond any word that exists.
When people started reading and critiquing my story, I panicked. I focused on the things that needed changing, and started to think I needed to change everything. The story goes in a new direction in part 3, and suddenly I was questioning if it should go in that direction, or if that part should exist at all. I entertained the idea of axing the part. Then I entertained the idea of keeping the part but not going in that new direction. All of that panic, and my readers haven’t even gotten to that section yet.
I couldn’t figure out why I was panicking. I doubted myself. I thought my story sucked, that no one would be interested in the new bits. Because the story starts out with a very specific focus, and it keeps that focus through parts 1 and 2, and even the first half of part 3. Then, suddenly, it goes somewhere else for a while.
The idea is that the two stories merge eventually. That they both become equally important, even though it’s all still structured around that first idea. But I got so afraid that what I was doing was somehow wrong. That my ideas for my story were just wrong. That my readers would get there and say…. what were you doing? Like there’s actually a right and wrong way to go in a story.
It got so bad that when I was reading through part 3 a couple weeks ago, I started to hate it. Raine tells me hate is a bad emotion. That it’s draining, requires too much energy. She’s probably right. Because after I hated it so much that I had all of those thoughts about changing it, I was exhausted. Too tired to write, or think. She and my husband kept telling me not to worry about it, that they would tell me what they thought when they got to that part. But I was so scared that it was wrong that I didn’t even want them reading it.
I’ve since calmed down. At least, enough that I think I can listen to their thoughts without freaking out and deleting 200 pages and 6 months’ worth of work. Two weeks ago, I almost considered doing that. I would have regretted it more than I think I realize.
Because I know something now that I couldn’t figure out before. A story isn’t just about telling a good story. It has to mean something to the author. If it doesn’t, it’ll be that much harder to make it mean something to the reader. It’s like playing violin. I know that if I don’t care about a piece or a performance, the audience won’t, either. I have to feel in order for them to feel. Otherwise it isn’t genuine.
I am in the early stages of part 4. I’ve covered about two weeks, and the part covers eight months. There’s a lot of work left. Lately, I’ve been planning a certain bit in my head. The bit comes near the very end of the story, and is much more related to the new idea, the secondary idea that I introduce in part 3, than to the original idea. Planning this bit is what finally helped me realize that I’m not doing anything wrong with my story.
This part gives me that glimpse. “The flash,” or whatever you want to call it. When I think about this part, I go out of my head. Not insane out of my head. The other kind. When I feel like the idea becomes real. It’s as real as life, makes me as full as anything that has actually happened to me, affects me as much as experiences in my own life have.
When I get that feeling about this part, I know that my ideas aren’t wrong. Maybe not everyone will like the digression. Maybe I’ll need to reword it or rework it so that it doesn’t seem so sudden. I’ve already been doing a bit of that. Adding things into the earlier parts that hint at it so it doesn’t come out of nowhere. But whatever I need to do, that digression stays. That idea, while not the original idea, is nevertheless just as important to the story, and to me.
Some authors can create poetry in prose. The way they weave words is beautiful, breathtaking. Sometimes when I read, I become overwhelmed by the idea that someone thought to place those words in that order to create something that amazing.
I’ve never been able to do that. I’m not a poet. I’ve always found it difficult to find the right words and the right order of words to express what I really mean. I’ve often wished that I was a different writer. That I could do what those authors I admire did. That I could write like Mervyn Peake, J.R.R Tolkien, George Eliot, or L.M Montgomery.
But I can’t. It’s simple. I don’t think writing like that is something you can learn. I think you have it or you don’t. I don’t. It took me a while to accept that.
I can always go the route of Edgar Allan Poe in The Masque of the Red Death. That story uses words that simply describe what is happening. There’s not really anything of poetry in it. But it creates an atmosphere. It draws the reader in, is consuming. When I read it for the first time, the reality that I was reading something disappeared. My mind became part of the story. I was in it, at that moment more than I was in my own life.
That’s the most important goal for a story, isn’t it? To be consuming. To draw us in, to make our minds unable to let go of it even when it’s over, or we put the story down, or we have to think about something else. Good stories won’t always let you think of something else.
I don’t know what my favorite authors thought of the stories they wrote that I love. Maybe they didn’t love them. Maybe my theory that the author has to care about the story in order for the readers to care is false. I don’t know. I just know that for me, unless my writing makes me feel something, I can’t hope for it to make anyone else feel.
More importantly, in my writing I can’t ignore that flash. I don’t have to feel it over every instance in my story. Obviously. That would be overwhelming. But if I feel it over an idea, and I can make that idea work, I can’t ignore it. I can’t say, that idea isn’t directly related to the original idea, so too bad. Not when it’s as strong as it is.
That glimpse is what I crave when I read, write, watch movies, listen to music, look at the things around me, interact with people, create ideas, and in everything else I do. I can’t feel it all the time. I’d explode. But if something makes me feel it, I want it. Because it’s what makes life worth living.
“It has always seemed to me, ever since childhood, that amid all the commonplaces of life, I was very near to a kingdom of ideal beauty. Between it and me hung only a thin veil. I could never draw it quite aside, but sometimes a wind fluttered it and I caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond — only a glimpse, but those glimpses have made life worth while.” ~ L.M. Montgomery on Emily of New Moon and “the flash.”