Hopeless and Helpless

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I have now written a little more than 4000 words into my new novel. I’m still floundering around, checking out the territory and the voice and the point of view, exploring the characters. The main character, a woman stuck in an unhappy marriage, hasn’t admitted to herself  that she’s unhappy, that she’s more unhappy that she can stand. She’s telling herself that this is just life and she can’t expect more.

I’ve been thinking about how my process — how the writer’s process early in the drafting stage — is a little like a character’s process early in a novel. We’re hopeless and helpless. Even if we’ve planned ahead, even if we know the ending, early in the process we can’t really be sure that it’s working, that it will work and be worth all the work we are willing to put into it. All the steps of the hero’s journey or whatever other template we’re using is all out in front of us and, like the hero, we haven’t really gotten started yet.

I’ve been thinking about how life can be like this. In a novel, the character has about 20 pages, maybe 50, to be stuck in this phase, the hopeless and helpless phase, after which they have to shake themselves off and get started on their quest…or whatever it is they have ahead of them. In life, however, we get stuck (not just writers). We spend months feeling hopeless and helpless. Or years. Decades. We’d like to change our lives, but, geez, it’s just not possible.  We think it’s just not possible.

If your life were a novel, your readers would sigh and close the book. They would go looking for a different book.  You should do them a favor and and give them a different book. Get up, shake yourself off.  Get started on your quest.