The number of days I have spent with Joanna in person, you could count on two hands—but sometimes, like when she writes me an email full of wisdom or, like a few weeks ago, when she passes two hours like nothing (!!) with me on the phone, I think how this woman is one of the best friends I’ve ever been given. She is a breath of fresh air, a kind of big-time magazine editor, and, also, a gifted thinker and writer. We’re so happy to be sharing her helpful and inspiring thoughts, in part eight of our Writer Chats series.
With almost everything in me, I want to write a novel. I want to tell stories that reveal truth, that change hearts, that make readers feel something.
But yet, I haven’t ever finished a single story. I have a dozen or more beginnings in a folder on my laptop, and a running list of at least a dozen more ideas on my phone. But no middles and no ends.
I don’t write because I fear failure (that cancer to so many dreams).
I fear trying to write something big and not being able to finish it. I’m scared of casting obvious, one-dimensional characters. I’m doubtful I could drum up a compelling plot. I’m afraid of writing crap.
Last night, I opened a New Email box addressed to both my parents. The day before, I finally finished reading the first volume of C. S. Lewis’ letters and I couldn’t wait to share some choice quotes with them. (My parents are probably two of the only people on the planet who would enjoy this type of email.)
As I retyped the quotes, gleaned from 1,000 pages of letters, I noticed a few things about how Lewis wrote. He made liberal use of parentheses. He took time to set up a joke and had confidence in his punch line. Most of the time, he didn’t say something in the fanciest way, he just said it.
About 30 minutes later, I hit Send and went to bed.
This morning, I was still thinking about typing in those quotes. I remembered my mom having us copy classic writings (think: The Declaration of Independence, or excerpts from Hawthorne) to practice handwriting when we were kids. Why did I stop doing that? Think of what I could absorb about word choice, grammar, style, and rhythm by taking the time to copy out what someone else—someone better than me—wrote. Like last night: Use fewer commas, Joanna.
Now I can’t shake the idea. Typing out passages I admire is like training wheels. At first, I’m only riding on the strength of the authors’ push, but soon, maybe without me realizing it, I’ll leave their push behind and pedal on my own.
And I need to do it now. The sooner I ignore my fears and start trying to write, the sooner I figure out if I’m failing or not. And once I fail, I can figure out why and fix it.
But first, I’ll borrow another writer’s confidence by writing out what they’ve already written. Then I’ll pedal hard.
Editor’s Note: Man, we love Joanna. So thankful to share her thoughts here! For the rest of you, we are still accepting submissions for this series. You don’t need to be a blogger to contribute; you just need to have something to say about what it means to write or what the writing process looks like for you. Email us at WritingSeries [at] FoodLovesWriting [dot] com.