I’m leaving tomorrow for a week-long writing retreat on Denman Island. I am attending a five day group writing workshop with Steven Galloway, where the first chapter of my first novel will get its first critique (sounds like I’ll probably make it big time), and then staying for the Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival.
I didn’t get nervous until yesterday, when I had to print out seven copies of my first chapter. And then I got so nervous. I stood over my printer as it ejected double-spaced, Times New Roman versions of the sentences I wrote. Why is there so much dialogue? I asked out loud, sweating. Such simple words, such petty subject matter.
The worst was my title, which I had to format four double-spaced lines down the first page (according to the first website Google generated for me). I previously thought my title was neat, but now with my name underneath it (with “by” before my name), isn’t it a little pretentious? A little too trying?
Then I had to write a summary of the rest of my book. I didn’t know whether to make it sound gripping and suspenseful, like the dust jackets of novels that have actually been published, or analytical, like I was really telling people what was going to happen and wanted to get their advice on whether it made sense. I remember doing it wrong in elementary school – I was supposed to write a book report, and instead I made it sound like a book trailer.
Why is it the formatting that makes me want to curl up in my bed and throw my novel away?
I think it’s because formatting makes immediately evident the serious writer who has before sent things out to agents and editors, and me, who is only calling this a novel because it took me a long time. I’m also afraid that now that my book will look like everyone else’s – with the same margin and page formatting (I hope) – it will be clear that I am nowhere near the stage I need to be at, that I am not yet a writer.
I’m scared about formatting because it replaces other things I could be scared about. Instead I could be scared about imagining people laughing at my writing. Instead I could be scared about the way I will react – maybe I’ll pretend this was a first chapter I just threw off and I don’t have any more than that, I’m just trying this writing thing out. Instead I could be scared that I’m going to leave this place thinking I’m not a writer, I don’t fit in with writers, and I’m never going to get anything published.
So instead of being scared of any of that I keep glancing at the pages I printed off and worrying about the way it looks. I hate Times New Roman! I hate my name!