Keys to my Castle in the Air

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , ,


‘I’ve got the keys to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.’

Louisa May Alcott penned this in ‘Little Women’, one of my all-time favourite books. My copy of Little Women is quite literally falling apart, as I read it over and over as a child. I read about Amy’s selfishness, Beth’s meek grace, Jo’s hot-headed stubbornness and Meg’s motherly cluckings sitting in trees in the English countryside, on a bus driving through the deserts of Egypt (my parents were somewhat less than impressed that I had my nose stuck in a book with such sights on the other side of the bus window, but a reader will read!), with the book tucked inside my schoolbooks in class and under the covers of my bed with a torch late at night.

I can’t quite explain my love of this book. I read constantly as a kid – everything I could get my hands on. I read sci-fi, fantasy, historical fiction, a little more fantasy perhaps, classics… Luckily for me, I have parents that believe strongly in reading and so I was never short of material – thanks, Dad! But something about this book always drew me back for another perusal.

There is something about the unconditional love of the sisters for one another, and for their doting parents, which I always found warming. Please don’t misunderstand; I never wanted for love and affection as a child. I have fantastic parents and a beautiful little sister – I have never felt as though I was missing out. I think perhaps it is the strength of the March family’s love, for each other, and for their neighbour, in the face of such adversity as they face that I found so touching.

At one point, the children learn of a starving family living without heat or food nearby to their home. Despite their own losses of late, the girls decide to give away their Christmas feast, which they have been anticipating for weeks. They are rewarded for their selflessness by the kindly old gentleman next door, of course, but in the moment, these young girls have no thought for aught but the less fortunate. As a young child, this was rather inspiring.

Ah, but I have gone off on quite the tangent. My intent, in sharing this line, was to share my own feelings as of late.

I am, as you will know if you have come across my little corner of the blogosphere before, currently writing my first full-length novel. I’m around 25,000 words in, and very excited about the whole project. Pretty much every moment of the day is devoted to writing, or thinking about writing, or dreaming about writing, at the moment; it feels somewhat like it is taking over my life. Not that I mind – oh no, not at all!

However, there are moments of darkness where I feel that this idea, this 1/3 of a manuscript that I have at the moment, is my key, but I’m not sure I can find that door to unlock. There are moments when I’m terrified that I’m going to spend countless hours finishing building my key, only to spend the rest of my life brandishing it around helplessly, never quite finding the door to which it fits. (To those for whom my somewhat laboured metaphor is too much, by door, I mean agent/publisher!)

One fantastic side-effect of these brief periods of doubt is that they are an excellent time for revisions. You’re likely to be more critical of yourself, stripping away more of the unnecessary words that the wordsmith in you would love to sprinkle throughout your manuscript, but which the commercial brain in you knows are just too much. One word of warning, however; make a copy of your precious work BEFORE you edit in this mood; sometimes, it can be easy to be a little too harsh.

Then, of course, the sun comes out from behind the clouds and fills my living room with golden light, and the world seems far less bleak, and of course I’ll find someone who wants to publish it… But there’s still that little niggling doubt that all of the hours spent tapping away at a keyboard are futile. I find at these times that it’s wise to step away for a little while – even if just for half an hour. While those tiny whispering doubts are bouncing around in your head it can be nigh on impossible to focus on the spectacular dialogue or epic action in your novel. Going for a walk, tidying the garden, even doing the dishes, can really help chill you the hell out, and put you back in the right frame of mind. I also find that going back and reading the passages I’m most proud of can help me feel a lot better. It’s never a bad thing to remind yourself that yes, you are good at this!

So, how do you banish those little cobwebs of self-doubt and panic?

  1. adriejf says:

    Often doubts about whether anyone will want to publish my work or read it niggles (love your use of the word, btw, it is one of my favorites!) at the back of my mind as well. I am constantly reminding myself that publishing is a long way off yet and I will have plenty of time to edit. Then I push (or attempt to push) all of that aside with this Isaac Asimov quote I’ve got pinned on my computer: “I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.” Its my way of reminding myself that even though I have goals of getting published, ultimately, I write for myself and no one else.

    On a more concrete note, at the start of the year, I resolved to make more self-imposed deadlines for myself with regards to first drafts — this has helped reduce those moments of “this is complete cr*p” immensely since I have a clear plan of when I will go back to edit.

    Keep going! You’ll get there 🙂

    • That’s a lovely quote – really succinctly explains that feeling every writer has.
      I think your idea of deadlines is a great one – I always work best to a deadline and if I make a more solid plan of when I will write and when I will go back to edit I won’t get bogged down when I should be letting the creativity flow.
      Thanks, good luck to you too!

  2. Rayne Warne says:

    I’ve been experiencing the same doubt the last 2 years writing my latest screenplay. That’s one of the reasons I started my blog, to have a place to write with no agenda. I’ve written only two posts and it’s incredibly liberating to get my mind off audience expectations, studio requirements, budget concerns, and just write for writing’s sake! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. Oh, I love Little Women as well! Read one copy so many times I wore it out…
    I don’t know what it is about it either. It’s just a “comfort read” for me, and there’s someting about all the talk about improving oneself that makes me want to become a better and more industrious person.

    Is there any aspiring, daydreaming young authoress who hasn’t had Jo and/or Anne of Green Gables as her hero?

    When it comes to the self-doubt, I agree that a deadline always helps. Even better, a deadline with someone else waiting for your work on the other end. When you haven’t got time for self-doubt, it’s sometimes easier to banish it.
    (Or publish word count goals on your blog, and whether you’ve accomplished them – anyting that makes you feel accountable!)

    Other great tools are twitter/1k1hr and the program Write or Die. Writing under pressure to a set time frame is good and gives you less time to think or edit yourself as you go along.

    (Thanks for the 1k1hr earlier tonight on Twitter – I am Maren Falkland there 😉 )

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