(Originally published Oct 7, 2015, here.)
Sometimes as writers we eat our young, or our young eat us, or we consume each other like an ouroboros, since the writer and the tale are intertwined.
The other day, I wanted to set fire to one of my manuscripts. I thought it was the most awful thing ever, full of crappy writing, and was convinced that it would never go anywhere. It’s a fantasy and while on the epic side, it is more of a personal tale involving power struggles and politics and a man trying to find his place in his world. It’s the prelude to swordfights and sacrifice, love and loss, and horror and joy, and much bloodshed.
The funny thing? I haven’t actually looked at the book in close to two months. It’s currently with my agent, so I can’t torch it, even if I wanted to. She will eventually send the manuscript back to me and tell me to get to work, as she should.
And I will, because that’s my job.
The whole episode was a crisis of faith brought on by a spell of depression and a stint of really crappy weather. It was a mood. It happens. It’s fear and hope and love and anguish dropping at the same time.
I can’t destroy my writing. I’ve never been able to.
And this book… oh I love this book. I call it Duty for short, and I adore the main character, Peradon. He’s been a constant companion for decades, though this is the first story that’s ever been his. All of the others were about someone else. But Duty is Per’s, his personal story, and I really want to see it out in the world someday. It’s also the gateway to so many other stories that run alongside and through Peradon’s life.
I’ve been carrying Peradon’s world inside me since 1990. It’s changed dramatically over time, just as I’ve changed over time. My understanding of our world and relationships, of the push and pull of life, has grown since I was eighteen and all that has spilled over into the worlds of my mind, shaped them, and grown them.
Peradon has evolved since his appearance in the very first failed novel I wrote in his world. As I said, I don’t throw things out. I still have the first novel set in that world. What struck me, as I cringed through reading my past writing, was the ways in which Peradon hadn’t changed.
There’s a line that says: He moved with an inborn grace and made no attempt to impress anyone.
And this is exactly who Peradon becomes. It’s not who he is in Duty, but when he grows into the role he will own…that is Peradon exactly. He moves with an inborn grace and makes no attempt to impress anyone.
So, despite twenty-five years of change, Per ends up in much the same manner in which he came into being.
The lesson here for myself is that we circle back to the beginning, always. And yet we move forward, always. Duty is damn good. It’s not perfect, but neither am I. That story owes its existence to a mess of words I still have from 1990. One quick look tells me how much I have grown as a storyteller.
To burn Duty would be to set fire to myself, to my past, my present, and my future. The book likely will not go out into the world exactly as it is now, but each version has been an improvement on the last, built on a seed that has been with me through all of my adult life. I keep coming back to that story and those characters.
We circle around and eat our tail until it’s time to shed our story skins into the world.