That was the subject line on an email I received this afternoon from a wonderfully talented writer friend. The writing hasn’t been going well, she wrote, and there are great big question marks made of doubts settling around her, and she’s feeling small. I’ve been mulling over her email since I received it. She wrote looking for encouragement and I hope that this post is that encouragement, but more than that I hope this post is encouragement for me as well and any other writers who are feeling small because we all take our turns at it.
Strangely, or maybe not, my first thought after reading the email was of Piglet in “The House At Pooh Corner.” It’s a book that leaves me in a puddle, especially the chapter “In Which Eeyore Finds the Wolery and Owl Moves Into It.” Owl’s tree house has blown down in a storm, and everyone is looking for a new home for him. Eeyore thinks that he has found just the spot, but it turns out to be Piglet’s house. Piglet, still on a high from having had a song written about his heroism during the storm’s aftermath, stands before his home, the smallest of all Christopher Robin’s friends, and becomes the biggest.
And then Piglet did a Noble Thing, and he did it in a sort of dream, while he was thinking of all the wonderful words Pooh had hummed about him.
“Yes, it’s just the house for Owl,” he said grandly. “And I hope he’ll be very happy in it.” And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself.
He does this thing because it is the thing to do and he is the one to do it. He does it because no one else can. And in that moment he overcomes every trembling fearful thing he’s ever done. If only for that moment he steps out of his past, and even out of the heroic saga Pooh has written about him, and he moves into a space of his own making.
That is what I think of this writer, and anyone who tries to hollow out a part of themselves so that they can give a home to people who don’t exist in a physical sense but exist in a very hard and uncomfortable emotional sense. It’s not easy giving them a home, a safe place to be themselves, and it will often destroy us in the process. I think it’s supposed to. After completing a book you won’t be the person you were before trying to write it, not if you’ve done it right. There’s real fear in that, and we’re all small before that task, to clear out enough of yourself so they can move in, and to do it not with accolades or rewards but for the honest truth that it has to be done and who else will do it. You’re supposed to be scared. The fact you are feeling small means you’re in the right place: it means you care. If you didn’t care it would have no power over you. Pay a bill, do you care what color the ink on the check is? Write a story, and you need the right journal, or the perfect seat in the coffee shop, or your special pen, or, or, or… Caring gives the work power over you, and it’s not afraid to use it. Let it. Get off your outline, you’ll find your way back. Repeat yourself, write in circles, let your characters lack depth. That’s what revisions are for. I’m neck deep in rewrites for Man in the Empty Suit, and my editor has the audacity, the temerity, to point out that I have repeatedly had characters walk up and down stairs thousands of times. They’ve climbed an empire of Empire State buildings. She dares (dares!) point out that the verb “push” appears to be the only verb I know. Thank God I have her, my editor. Thank God I have everyone who has ever looked at this book, because without them the repeated phrases, half-baked ideas, over-used descriptions, misguided plot points, and inconsistent characterizations (and names) would haunt the work and drag it under. I held my nose and wrote the damn thing. Now I get to rewrite it with their help, and you, Small Writer, will find that if you hold your little nose for a while and revel in being pathetic that you’ll finish too, and then you can take a deep breath and realize that you’ve stepped out of every fearful moment a writer endures and stepped into the knowledge that you did that Noble Thing.
Go ahead and be small. I hope you feel small and comforted.