A couple of weeks ago, I had my trial by fire. I attended a meeting of my erstwhile writers’ group and read a passage from my novel.
I had taken a few weeks off work to make some headway on the novel and I had about 40 pages of material from which to choose a passage for the writers’ group. For days leading up to the meeting I had a mounting case of nerves. The naysayers in my head had a field day.
As a test-run, I decided to read out a passage to my wife, Jennifer, the one person I could trust to hear the words at this stage. It was the first time anyone had heard anything from the novel. As I read it out loud, I was full of self-judgement. “What are you thinking? You can’t read this out loud! It’s shite!” My voice quavered, my temples pulsed, my hands shook. The passage I had chosen was too long. By the time I finished, the words sounded hollow, vapid, pointless. Without pausing, I said to Jennifer: “I can’t read this! I can’t go through with this!”
It was more sobering hearing myself say this than listening to my own ridiculous judgements. I have heard this voice before, and I recognize it as the pathetic sound of defeat. I tossed and turned that night, agitating over what it would mean if I cancelled my reading to the group.
I knew I had to face the writers, so I went back to the drawing board. Over the next day or so, I worked and re-worked a much smaller passage. And I have to say, it was perhaps the most productive period of work I spent in my entire leave of absence. As I cleaned and polished the passage, a more refined, more believable voice emerged from my main character. He sounded more alive, more feet planted on the ground, than ever before.
The writers’ group is a small, informal gathering of writers who are, albeit, a little on the serious side. One of them had just published her second novel. The fact that they were relative strangers, combined with the knowledge that at least one of them was literary royalty, added to my nervousness. My voice still trembled and I thought my heart would pop out of my mouth. The naysayers in my head, though, were strangely silent. I finished the reading short of breath. There was a pause, and then came the compliments. I listened to them for awhile and no one used the word, “Shite” or anything close. I was relieved, pleased, delighted that I had gone through with the reading. I had slain a dragon.
The cat is out of the bag. A few polite writers have heard my words. There will be other challenges to my confidence, I am sure, but on that Sunday afternoon, it felt as if I passed a big test in this whole novel-writing conquest.
Now, please excuse me. Clare has gone swimming in the river and Brother Richard cannot keep his eyes from watching her.