Writers are like onions

[This is a messy post about want and fear and books and bravery and madness]

I’m borrowing an observation from the lovely Jo Treggiari. I wrote on Twitter that I expected writing to get easier, that the more books I wrote, the more spread out my feelings would be across them, but how in actuality, the more I write, the more exposed I feel. Jo said it’s like peeling off skin. So if we think of writers like onions, each book a layer, then yes. And maybe this isn’t true for many writers, but for me, this is how it feels.

The more books I write, the more of myself I put into those books and consequently out into the world (either in the present, or intended in the future), the more layers I seem to lose, and it terrifies me. I put so much of myself into my projects, and it scares me how attached I am to them. The attachment stems from how excited I am, how badly I WANT to share them, which is what makes it confusing, I suppose.

That WANT is a terrifying, tangible thing. Sometimes I think it would be better to not want, than to want this badly, but I know that I could never sustain that, that to want out of passion is always better than to not want out of fear.

As evidence of the happiness treadmill theory (over-simplification: our definition of happiness adjusts as we achieve our wants so that we are always wanting, and never happier), when THE NEAR WITCH sold and I found out I was going to have A BOOK, I immediately became preoccupied with the notion of having ANOTHER BOOK. Was NW a fluke? Luck? Could I do it again? Getting that second deal, for THE ARCHIVED, was very important for me, because it meant I was going to get the CHANCE to do it again. But you should also know that when D*H bought the book, it wasn’t a book, it wasn’t even an idea on the table. D*H told me they wanted another book from me, and then we worked to decide which book it would be. This meant, in my head, that NW could still have been a fluke, that D*H didn’t know. D*H believed in me, but I didn’t entirely believe in myself.

The first half of this year, while I was writing THE ARCHIVED, was the most stressful time of my life thus far because I was constantly wondering if I was capable of doing it. I threw myself into this project, committed so much of myself to it to make it the best it could be. And I did it. I wrote another book. And I love it. I love this book so much that it scares me, the return of that terrifying level of WANT.

I’m now working on a third book, one I often refer to as VAGABOND PUPPIES, and while I tease and joke about it online, the truth is that this book scares me more than any other. It terrifies me, because when I work on it, I feel that same gut-wrenching WANT. I want it to be good, and so I put more and more of myself into it.

I look at the three projects, all so different and so odd and so me, and I wonder how someone can put so much of themselves into different places and feel whole. Which is probably why half the time I feel mad with want and fear and hope. And yet I keep doing it. I keep breaking myself into pieces, keep peeling back layers.

I wonder, if I write enough books, if I peel back enough layers, if I put myself into enough projects, if it will ever get easier. Part of me hopes so, for sanity’s sake, but the other part hopes that this want and fear and joy and hope never weaken, that it never gets easy. Easy is quiet and those feelings are loud and tangled and scary.

I talk so often of being brave, of being willing to accept rejection and critique, but really the need to be brave doesn’t stop when you sign an agent, or get a deal. The hardest part is CONTINUING to be brave, continuing to put more and more of yourself out there.

Who ever thought writing would be such a messy thing.


12 thoughts on “Writers are like onions

  1. Tessa G says:

    I agree with this 100%. Except I know I don’t want it to stop – It only gets easy if I let it get easy, which leads to mediocrity. And I don’t think there’s any end to the layers. Every adventure I have, every person I love or hate, every day I get out of bed and LIVE adds more layers. So if I have my way I’ll be afraid and wanting and brave-brave-brave and stark-raving mad forever.

  2. Elaine Allen says:

    Awesome post! I understand your feelings and look forward to someday jumping on that treadmill myself! The important thing is to embrace your fears and not be held back by them-that’s my problem…fear of failure AND fear of success = paralysis! 🙂 ps. Post was not so messy; a bit manic, but you’re an artist. We are all a bit manic…nothing wrong with that! 🙂

  3. anneriley says:

    This is what terrifies me the most about the possibility of selling a book to a publisher. It just feels so . . . EXPOSED. *shudders*

  4. devafagan says:

    Thank you for this! It still hurts to peel back those layers, but it helps knowing others are feeling the same way, and you capture exactly why it is so vital to keep being brave.

  5. dothutchison says:

    But the fear is important- if we weren’t afraid of it, it would be too easy, and easy things don’t challenge us, they don’t carry any sense of achievement in completing them, and most of all, they don’t nudge us along to better ourselves and our craft.
    The fear can be paralysing, but it’s also necessary.
    So here’s to the layers that show working through that fear. 😀

  6. Sonia says:

    This was a really interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

    It’s completely understandable, the way you’re feeling. Authors pour their heart and soul into their novels and while it’s easy to forget sometimes, it must be SO SCARY and I admire you all incredibly for doing it. This is why authors are my rock stars.

  7. I love this. Love how real it is. How raw.


  8. Valerie Kemp says:

    This is exactly the thing that kept me from writing for so long. And okay, the thing I still fear. That giving away some secret part of myself and exposing it for people to see and judge. You know, the horrifying thought that people will know what’s going on in my brain. Eek! But, I think like Tessa said, I can appreciate the braveness of it now. It’s brave to be honest, and the books I love the most are the ones that connect with those very same secret parts of me, and that’s what I want to do one day too. Give people like me a sign that they aren’t the only weird ones in the world.

    I am not pleased though, to hear that it really doesn’t get much easier. Oh well, I’m sure courage burns extra calories. Or something.

  9. Jo says:

    I think if it didn’t matter so much to you personally (as it does to me) then it wouldn’t cause so much anxiety. Caring deeply allows you to write with the most truth but it also means you wander round like a flayed mole rat most of the time and unfortunately (and fortunately) writing is about the most personal thing you can do.
    Since there is no way I am ever going to stop writing and stop hoping my work will be published, I am going to need to find ways to be able to invest totally but also to separate myself from my work. One of the ways I’ve found that helps is to have other stuff going on in my life and to cultivate a sense of humor about the whole thing. Writer friends are incredibly valuable as well.
    I think it does get easier over time…

  10. I think it is going to be hard – but I think you’re still pretty early. I’m sure it will get a little better. Or – at least I hope so.

  11. Beautifully said. Makes me think I’ll love the other books too.

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