To be a writer of fiction, you must believe in several impossible things before breakfast. You must believe in people who never lived, places that never existed, and series of events that never happened. This is the easy part.
What is harder is seeing these made-up things clearly, so clearly that you can describe them to someone who’s never been there. To choose the specific and vivid details that will make these not-real things become real in the mind of the reader. As Viggo Mortensen said in an interview about the Lord of the Rings, “It’s just a movie. But, the more you can believe it’s not a movie, that it’s real, the better movie it will be.” A writer, like an actor, has to try to believe in his world unabashedly and with a whole heart.
Say you can do this. See the impossible made real. Put words on paper that inspire people to believe too. Say you can stitch together something special, and that you can revise it to make it even stronger.
Well, now you have to believe two impossible things at once.
First, that your work isn’t good enough yet, that you have to work to hone it and polish it until it shines, that it can always be better. That you have to always be better. That you can’t rest until you are. Stay up late, get up early, sweat and cry and shape the work over and over because it just isn’t good enough. Without this deep-rooted sense of work left to be done, you’ll never revise as you should. You’ll never challenge yourself to do the bigger, more ambitious, scarier thing. And you need to challenge yourself, over and over.
Because, at the same impossible time you know your work needs improvement, you have to somehow stretch your brain to also believe you’re brilliant. You have to believe your work has a spark of genius, a message and a truth worth saying. That you’re truly special and that your work is like nothing else in the world. That it’s worth every bit of the sweat and blood and tears and that someone, somewhere will be profoundly touched by what you have to say. Without this unshakeable faith, you’ll never keep writing. You’ll never settle in to the hard, bitter work of writing and keep going despite all odds.
In an art where we regularly describe six impossible things before breakfast in vivid detail, perhaps we can open our minds a bit more. Perhaps we can embrace the two contradictory truths:
None of us are half as good as we need to be. Our work needs more work.
But, all of us have something rare and important to say, something that needs to be said.
What inspires you to keep writing?