On Monday afternoon I finished my novel.
This is cause for much celebration in the Smith household.
The temptation is to start "the next step", which for me would be novel #2, and believe me I have hundreds of ideas for it bubbling up from the depths of my subconscious like an underwater volcano, but I really believe it is important to stop and relfect for a moment after you achieve something.
Finishing this novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.
(warning: you are about to be enlightened about some of the very worst of my nuroses)
I’ve been writing stories for many years – over a decade, which is over half my life. Very few of them I actually finished. None of the longer, novel-length ones I finished. I don’t think I ever even got more than 20 pages in, to tell the truth.
Some of it was not knowing my process – I had to figure out how I liked to write a novel (i.e. planning) and this was a process of exploration. But much of it was my own tendency to never finish anything at all in my life. I have given up on SO MANY things in my life. Here are just a few:
1. Jazz Ballet in primary school. There was this medal that was given to a different girl every week to take home, and I never, ever got it, even when it lapped the class twice. I tried so hard for that teacher and never got a bit of recognition.
2. Various musical instruments (piano, flute, guitar, singing). No matter how hard I practiced there was always someone better than me. I never felt like I was good enough.
3. Mathematics. I spent the whole of year 10 copying the work of the girl who sat beside me because, although I was in the advanced maths class, I was no where near the top. I thought, if I can’t be good at this, why bother?
4. Various part time jobs.
5. High school. Although there were many other factors that contributed to me dropping out of school in the middle of year 12, and I already had a place secured at university, much of it was just fear that I wouldn’t succeed.
You may be sensing a pattern here. These are just a small sample of the many, many things I have quit in my short life. In my mind there are two factors here, closely linked: poor self esteem and perfectionism.
Throughout much of my life my self-esteem has been tied up with what I DO with my time, whether it be academics, my job, or my extracurriculars. So, whenever I sensed I wasn’t doing well at something, or wasn’t the absolute best, I felt truly worthless as a human being so I quit.
The last three years have been my attempt to extricate my sense of self with the things I do. I am an important, special person, not because I’m the best singer, or writer, or the best in my English class, I am special and important because of who I am, in essence; because of the person God made me.
I think has made the point before that in order to succeed in life you need your confidence to come from within and feed into what you do, not the other way around.
Every time I would start a task, be it a story or a new extracurricular, I would be all jazzed until the doubts began to flood in. When I started thinking "well, this isn’t very good" I would have to stop, because I would start thinking "well, I’m not a very good person". Crazy, I know.
So writing this novel, as well as every other undertaking that I have persevered with over the past two years, has been an exercise in removing self-worth from my activities, or using my self worth to fuel my activities and not the other way around.
I know that my novel is far from perfect but this doesn’t affect who I am or how I see myself. I know it needs heaps of work before it’s worthy of being read, but that doesn’t make me at all unworthy.
And I don’t have some misapprehension that now I’ve finished a novel I am a worthwhile human being. That’s not why I’m celebrating. I’m celebrating because finishing a novel is tangible proof of the lessons I have learnt: lessons about self esteem and perseverence.
It was a huge, huge undertaking for me, and I devoted every spare minute of time for 6 months on that baby. I’ll be devoting much of the next few months to it as well. So I’m proud. And I’m celebrating. And I hope you’ll celebrate with me.