You come up against it in a story somewhere and the hair on the back of your neck stands up – you have just come face to face with Power.
It happens when a strong story that already has you in its grip comes together in a perfect amplifying wave from a storyteller who can do it justice. It comes at a point when story and language marry into this towering thing in whose shadow you stand and tremble.
You’ve read books that made you feel like that. At least, bits of those books do. You’ve wept over a moment, you’ve raged over a character’s fate, you found yourself breathless when faced with a person, a situation, a landscape, an instant of life-changing destiny.
And if you haven’t read a book like that… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. At the same time, I am jealous of you because your first such experience is still to come, and when it does you will never forget it.
As a writer… this is a whole new level of pain.
You’re the writer, sitting poised over your keyboard. You are an experienced scribbler, with a few million words behind you. You’ve been published, you’ve been nominated for and won awards for your work. You have a readership. You know your craft. You know what you are doing.
But if you think that experience is a bulwark against pure unadulterated terror that comes with creation, you’d be wrong. You’re that writer, the one I just made you imagine and you are writing a new story. And in the heart of you, you know that the story is solid – it’s good, the characters are good, it’s going well, the pacing is perfect, it’s all working and it’s all fine – and then the story CHANGES under your hands.
It becomes something bigger.
You can suddenly see it rise, like the shadow of God, and you can see it whole, and you stop words and you freeze and you stare into its eyes – and the eyes are not unkind or purposefully terrifying, they can be kind, they can even be proud. But you look into the eyes of that story which used to be only yours and now can never again be and you think:
“I will NEVER forgive myself if I screw this up.”
It’s like you have been riding this beautiful wild horse across open country at an exhilarating gallop, and you are staying on because you and the horse are one, and the horse wants you on its back and does its part to keep you there, and all of a sudden the wonder and the sheer unreal joy of the experience GETS to you and the result is that you are suddenly terrified to death, that you absolutely know that you have no right to be on that horse at all because it is all too damned beautiful, and you are going to have to account for this and you know – you KNOW – that you are inadequate to do that.
You suddenly fear that the words that you have, the words you have gathered to describe this…story, can never ever do it justice, that you can never convey to a reader the power of the experience.
The POWER. You come face to face with power. The power of something enormous, bigger than you – the power of faith, the power of beauty, the power of courage, the power that you have been given the absolute gift of being allowed to write about – and you are afraid, you are so afraid, that all those millions of words you have already written are never going to be adequate practice for what you are going to be called upon to deliver now.
I’ve had a handful of instances where this dark god’s hand came out and laid itself gently on my head – in a blessing, perhaps – but the touch always froze me, and left me staring at a passage on the screen that I had just typed in and not recognizing it at all, the words came from SOMEWHERE but it couldn’t possibly have been from me because I am simply not big enough to have carried such a huge thing inside of me. And don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining – this is a gift, a privilege.
But right now…
Riding a wild horse photoRight now I am riding a story – bareback, with no tack, just clinging on with my knees and my hands tangled into the flying mane. I am lying almost flat on the horse’s back, and it is in a headlong gallop. And I can see it ahead of me, that rising shadow. This is a story which holds Power, and the Fear of Power is upon me. I need to be not just “good enough” to carry off the vision that is in my head right now. I need to be better than that, better than I think I can be, better than I might be capable of being. I am going to need all of it, all the weight of those millions of words already behind me. Because I am holding something in my hands, and it is good, and it is scaring me silly.
I am about to plunge into that shadow, because the climax of this book is upon me.
Someone light a candle for me.