Saturday: spent most of the day reading roughly 400 or so pages of Brandon Sanderson’s The Well of Ascension, the second book in the Mistborn trilogy. For those who haven’t read him, Sanderson is top dog. Ever since I started with his Stormlight Archive, I can’t get enough of his writing, his worlds and most of all, his characters. He’s one of my top authors. You know, the type that I spend my days off reading; the type that I buy his books immediately instead of getting them at the library; the type that I try and shove onto all of my friends and my students, guilting them into reading him because I know they will be better off for it (and not warning them of the emotional turmoil that comes with it, but is oh so totally worth it).
For me, after finishing Ascension, I experienced two types of emotional turmoil: one was in direct relation to the book. Without giving away any spoilers (because I’m going to force you all to read it, remember?), lets just say the last 150 pages or so are really intense. And just when I thought I got over one part, another part shocks me even more. A glimpse into my inner monologue: Wait, I forgot about that character! He can’t be back. Oh no. Ohshitohshitohshitohshitohshit. That line…damn, if that wasn’t a knife straight into my heart. Thanks for that, Sanderson (not). You can’t–she didn’t–well, CRAP. Pewter drag, man, if that ain’t a bitch.
Obviously, you can tell that I get more vulgar as the intensity rises (my apologizes). As I finished the book, I was left in a coma-like state, sort of a mix between, “What did I just live through?” and “What do I do now?” A quirk of mine is to read some aspects of books that many people might skip over: the acknowledgements, the appendixes, etc. (I believe it is also sort of a defense mechanism, to prevent the book from actually being over). In this edition of Ascension, Sanderson offered a chapter from one of his author buddies, trying to give the man more credit (Daniel Abraham is his name). And Sanderson tells readers why they should read Abraham: “His series […] has everything I love about a good fantasy story: an intriguing magic system, deep and complex characters who deviate from fantasy clichés, and an unexpected plot.”
After reading that, this is when I experienced my second bout of emotional turmoil: the seeds of self-doubt suddenly springing into full bloom from the pit of my stomach and shooting straight through my heart. I’m a fantasy writer. Unpublished, at the moment. Working fervently on my debut trilogy, third book in. Quite honestly, I want to finish this trilogy so I can start on a sci-fi trilogy I’ve been musing on for the past year. So many stories, never enough time. Posted a bit ago about trying to secure an agent. Gotten a few rejections this time ’round (however, I have received more responses the second round than I did the first. And, they seemed to be more encouraging and more positive, despite being rejections, so I can only assume I’m going in the right direction).
Anyway, as soon as I read Sanderson’s words — his claim as to what made fantasy good, in his opinion — I immediately started to panic and question my own work. Do I include too many clichés? Are my characters too dull? Do they lack complexity? Is the plot predictable? Is the writing fresh? Is any of it worth reading if I can’t decide if the story is worth telling? You see, as a writer, I take critiques to my writing very personal. These characters are as real to me as my family or friends. In the dream-world I often like to inhabit, I wonder what life would be like as a published author. I wonder what it would be like for my greatest dream to come true. And often, I worry about the reception. I worry about browsing through Pinterest and reading how people hate my work (almost as often as I get stoked and hope that one day, the amazing artists that pinners find and repin would bring my characters alive visually in a medium I am so untalented in). I worry about the criticisms I would discover and be affronted with, from fans and critics and friends and family and strangers alike.
But what I hadn’t considered — not often — was the reception of those I idolize.
Brandon Sanderson. Brent Weeks. Jim Butcher. Patrick Rothfuss. James A. Owen. Rob Thurman. Evi Manieri. Sharon Shinn. Tamora Piece. Mark Lawrence. George R.R. Martin (actually, he can hate them. We’re in a middle of a feud he doesn’t realize we’re battling. He tried to trick me into thinking he killed Jon Snow in A Dance with Dragons. I will not be fooled, sir!), Terry Brooks. Jeff Salyards. Steven Erikson. (Thank God Tolkien isn’t here to break my heart…I’d even wager literally). I mean, this is just a short list of authors whose books I have devoured. Many are authors whose names I place on a pedestal, only dreaming that I could be as talented as them. Half of the time, I dream of being published so that maybe, I could call some of them my friends and then bask in their glory and creativity for the rest of my life in awe and wonder. But I hardly ever thought about what would happen if one of them read my work. And worse, if one of them hated it. If they thought it was horrid. Crushed isn’t an apt enough word to describe my reaction. If a stranger — a soul I will never meet, never know, never understand — possibly bashing my work keeps me up at night, then how am I supposed to respond to the idea of an idol, an inspiration, a hero, doing the same thing?
I sat in the middle of my floor like a hispter and thought about it (my thoughts often getting interrupted with thoughts of Sazed or Vin and the newcomer, Ruin — dang you, Sanderson!). I thought about the crushing blow it would be, to finally make it into the club I have dreamed of being brave enough, talented enough, foolish enough, lucky enough, to enter: the world of published fantasy and science fiction writers; only to suddenly become the outsider again, because my work has been weighed and it has been found wanting. It scared me. But I also knew, in my gut, my response:
It is a risk I am willing to take. It is a risk I have to take.
I can’t explain my writing process. I can’t explain how this story I am writing came to me — well, I can, I guess, but it doesn’t much make sense. The story writes itself. There are characters and twists that pop up that I never planned for, never imagined. These characters breathe lives of their own and I am their captive, writing down their story to the best of my ability. And I am a writer. There is nothing — no fear — that will stop me from writing. Not only do I see it as my job to get these stories that somehow made it to my head out for the world to see, but I also wouldn’t stay sane if I didn’t try. Because I love these characters. I love these stories. I love what they teach me and how they challenge me. I want to share that love with the world, as many of my favorite authors above have done. And if there is a chance — any at all — that at least one person is inspired, captivated and enthralled with Darryn’s story (or any stories I write, for that matter) like I have been when reading, then it is my duty to ensure that I do everything in my power to get Darryn’s story told.
Because who would I be to rob that reader of that experience when that experience is one of the main things reminding me how much life is worth living? To give that reader that chance…to have a reader come up to me one day and thank me for my story, because it helped teach them about love or helped them battle depression or let them escape reality for a day or simply because it was just a pleasant way to spend the afternoon…every word, every syllable, every thought of dislike towards my writing would be worth that one moment. The entire world could hate my work — my idols included — and if it changed the life of one soul, that would be enough. So I keep trying. So I keep writing, fears be damned. I have stories to tell.
And soon, I hope to find readers willing to listen.