When “why” is not helpful

So here’s the truth. I have not written any fiction during my gap year.

Non-fiction? Sure. Sunday Readers and entire courses… I’ve been absolutely prolific. But when it comes to my YA novel The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa, which is in its third draft, and After Everything which is only half-written… well, it’s crickets. Over the course of this school year I’ve distracted myself with a trip to Europe, three weeks in Nova Scotia, no fewer than four separate research obsessions and some spectacularly unproductive time on social media.

It’s a puzzle. I can’t say that I don’t have time. I do. I’ve never had this many hours a day that belong only to me.

So, of course, I wonder what the hell is happening. Am I paralyzed by the thought that it’s impossible to write the novel that lives in my head? Am I concerned that my work won’t be good enough to be published or that even if it is, the people in my life will whisper about how bad it is over tea and biscuits. Am I actually afraid to succeed?

One. None of these thoughts are helpful.
Two. I don’t know why I have NOT been writing when I REALLY want to write and the funny thing is that I’m a person who doesn’t normally hide from the truth about her life.

My energy has been really low this January; I feel like I’m hibernating. In the midst of this quiet time I read a post by coach Anna Kunnecke in which she wrote: “Consider January a time of gathering your powers.” Yes. I’ve been gathering my powers. Taking it slow. Then, a few days ago, I had a really interesting thought, a thought about which I’m still excited… what if the “why” doesn’t matter?

Yup. You read that right. What if the why doesn’t matter?

There are all kinds of things for which we never receive a satisfactory explanation. Why did a partner leave? Why did a beloved family member die? Why did a close friend stop returning our calls? These things are painful but even if we understood the reason, it probably wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m more interested in writing than I am in spending any more time trying to figure out why I’m not writing so I’ve decided to start asking myself “What next?” instead of “Why?”

What next?

  • I’ve decided not to embark on a radical re-write of The 38 Impossible Loves of Naoko Nishizawa but to simply edit the novel to the best of my ability.
  • On Tuesday, I started a three-day editing retreat at a one-hundred-year-old house in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Hiro-o where I made my last set of edits to the novel.
  • When I’ve finished my edits, I’ll work with an editor and probably self-publish.
  • I’ve even chosen a pen name for my Young Adult novels that is easier to spell and pronounce than Monna McDiarmid: Mona McBride. {McBride is my mother’s maiden name and my cousin Mona McBride was a nurse in World War 2; I’m named after her.}
  • I’d like to publish before summer break and have a launch party in Tokyo… possibly at a diner that is the setting of a couple of scenes in the novel.
  • I’ve re-enrolled in the Coffee Shop Writers Group with Caroline Donahue for extra support and accountability.

I’m going to put this lovely story into the world and then I’m going to keep writing.

Is there anything in your life about which you could gently drop the why and get started on the what next?

I’m rooting for you, dear one.


This post was first published as The Sunday Reader. If you’d like to receive these posts directly in your mailbox, every two weeks or so, you can subscribe here. I’d love for you to share this post with your tender-hearted, like-minded friends.


One comment

  1. So true. I believe everyone passes through this phase and then move on. All the best for your novels.. keep writing..

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