Insanely Optimistic

Some days, writing fiction for a living feels like walking through sludge in a mudstorm. You can't really see where you're going, you aren't sure if where you've been has brought you any closer to your goal, and every step forward takes every ounce of strength you can muster.

And that's just writing the book. If and when you get to the point where you have a book in your hands that you are half-decently proud of, there's another blacker, colder mudstorm to walk through to try to make any money from it.

But one thing at a time.

Right now, I'm in the "easy" part of the process with my next book, or rather, trilogy of books. I recently had some breakthroughs while plotting and writing The Mermaid's Tear (which I think will actually be the name of the first book, so now I have to think of a trilogy name) which have made the plot way cooler, answered a lot of the questions I had been asking of myself while I researched, and made it possible to work in even more nifty worldbuilding and interesting characters.

The thing is, it also asks some pretty big questions about faith, slavery, the human condition, redemption, love, and relationships.

I'm going to be honest—I spend a little bit of every day wondering if I'm actually going to be able to pull this off.

If I succeed in making this into a cohesive story that hits all the right notes, it will be not quite like any other fantasy book I've ever read, which is very exciting to me. Even if no one else "gets it," I will love it and be proud that I was able to make the whole thing work. (But of course, some part of me is hopeful that it is the kind of story that will make other people identify with it and get excited about it in a Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter sort of way. I write because I love it, but I do want to make a living, too.)

The problem is, in order to do all that, I'm messing with some pretty serious things—namely, the closely-held religious beliefs of millions of people around the globe. And not just Christians, though I have taken the most liberties with how Christians perceive the spiritual world, I think (in the sense that I'm drawing on the Judeo-Christian system the most, so people with very different faiths will probably look at it more as a fantasy construct, whereas Christians might be like "What the heck did this blasphemer do?"). I have been working with characters from multiple faith backgrounds, so I have to make my "system" jive in some way with how other religions perceive the spiritual side of our universe.

Preferably without making anyone want to throw my books across the room. Or burn them. Burn them all.

I want to be respectful to all of these people while illustrating the truths I'm trying to get to. I want to make readers sit and ponder what I have to say with an open heart, being ready to receive real-life personal revelations, without watering down the message of hope that I hold dearest, and without turning off large swaths of people because of how I interpreted certain aspects of their faith in the framework of my fantasy world.

Do you see why I feel a little bit anxious about this?

And why I keep asking myself—is this even possible? Or am I committing career suicide?

Plotting and puzzling have a lot in common. Anyone who's tried both will know what I mean.

Plotting and puzzling have a lot in common. Anyone who's tried both will know what I mean.

Today, I read a very interesting, cerebral, and massively-long post about career choices on the blog Wait But Why. As an example for one of his points, author Tim Urban talks about how, to achieve success in a field, you have to get good not just at the skills required to do the actual job, but the entire "game" required to achieve success. Non-traditional careers such as the arts require a different set of assets than traditional ones like being a neurosurgeon.

He used acting as an example, because to achieve success as an actor, you have to be more than good at acting. You also have to find ways to make your own luck (he was much more specific, so read the post if you're curious), and you have to possess "insane optimism."

This holds a lot of parallels to a writing career.

Later in the post, he talks about how, in our careers, we only need to focus on the next point or "goal," not on the entire series of steps we need to take to get to the end goal we have defined as "success".

That goes along with one of the very first Scripture verses I ever memorized:

Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
— Psalm 119:105

God knows that we can't handle the stress of thinking about our entire future at once. There is too much unknown. We don't even know what the puzzle pieces are yet, let alone how they will fit together. So he only shows us one step at a time—just the amount that a lamp would illuminate.

I think I need to remember this as I'm writing my book. Yes, I have a general outline, and some basic ideas of what I'm trying to say and what my characters will do on the way to their goal. But as to whether or not I can make the plot work in such a way that the message will be heard, and accepted, by others? In other words, that I can write the story without the heart of it completely imploding?

I'll have to figure that out one step, and one piece, at a time.

As one of my mugs says, "It's only cold if you're standing still."

So I'll just try to keep my insane optimism, even on sludgy days, and keep moving forward.

What are your thoughts? Have you ever tried something that made everyone, including yourself, think you were completely insane? How did it turn out? Do you think I'm completely insane with what I'm trying to do with this story? Are you offended by the very idea, or excited to see how this might work into a fantasy world?

I'd love to hear from you!