I love cooking.
I love every step of the process. Butterflying chicken and browning ground beef. Chopping vegetables and swirling butter and garlic in a cast iron until it’s fragrant. Recipes are suggestions, guidelines, and I’m free to play within their boundaries. Measurements optional. Alterations welcome.
But whenever meat hits a sizzling pan, whenever a meal is set to simmer, or enters the oven where I can’t play with it anymore, I worry. I worry I’ve failed. Maybe I should have paid closer attention to the instructions. Maybe I shouldn’t have substituted one ingredient for another. Maybe, despite loving cooking, I’m no good at it.
The worry is all for naught, of course. I’m not a top chef by any means, but what I make comes out delicious enough. I enjoy it. My boyfriend sings my praises. And with each bite I shake my head, wondering why I let myself doubt, why, every time, I let insecurity intrude the process, threatening to disrupt it.
Take that insecurity with cooking, and, uh, multiply it by fifty billion when it comes to writing.
When the dust settles, sometimes there’s nothing to face.
Since I finished The Marked Ones last year, I’ve been going through a thing. At first, the thing was just rest. I’d finished a whole book, and the next journey was to the query trenches. I was happy to travel there and relax a while, release my novel baby into the world and just wait for word on its reception.
The rest was nice. I caught up on a lot of non-writerly tasks. I read books. I cooked my way through a Pinterest board of recipes. I watched superhero movie marathons and found the inspiration and excitement I wanted in my own work, and I saw the promise of continuation. When the dust settles after the big fight, there’s always a sequel to look forward to.
The dust settled after my writing feat, and I fully expected to stand up afterwards and face the next beast of a project. But a beast has not fully emerged. Some have stuck out their noses, sniffed the air, and found it lacking. Perhaps, they’ve found me lacking. While I’ve outlined a few stories, even started a few first drafts, nothing has stuck. And I’m left wondering if anything is next.
In darkness, we must search for that one speck of light.
Creativity is a well, and sometimes it runs dry. Thankfully, though, like wells it’s rare for creativity to stop working permanently. Though the drought is dark and painful, rain always comes to quench thirst, and it’s just a matter of holding on until those first drops fall.
I forget this a lot. Not just in my writing life, but in all aspects of my life. I think that the darkness I’m in will never fade, that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. But I rewatched Avengers: Infinity War recently, and (spoiler) when it was time for half the universe to become dust, I wondered how I made it until Avengers: Endgame when (spoiler) everyone made a victorious return.
But while the end of Infinity War is undoubtedly devastating, and still is after a fifty millionth viewing, I had forgotten about the after credits scene. The glorious scene where Nick Fury, mid-dusting, sends out a last call for help, and a banner appears on his pager screen, and a theme plays, and a promise is made to the distressed viewers.
There it was. The light. The hope. And when Captain Marvel appears in one of the first scenes of Endgame to save Tony Stark, a shining goddess in the deepest darkness, the viewers—I—know hope is on the horizon. If everyone just keeps on holding on.
Sometimes, we just have to clear our browser.
Holding on is easier said than done. For so many people, it’s next to impossible. And finding a way out of the darkness? Amongst the swirling chaos, it’s hard to find the path to freedom.
But, sometimes, it’s as simple as just clearing your browser. A couple days ago, I had about a dozen tabs open, afraid to exit out of even one because I might need it. I might need to add to a story at a moment’s notice, might need to apply for a job as soon as an advertisement was posted, might need to check my email for query updates. I let that fear manifest into stress and paralysis whenever I opened my laptop to work, and a lot of day I got no work done because of it.
So I closed them. And the world didn’t end. I opened a new word document and just wrote for an hour, two. I opened to a fresh sheet in my notebook and scribbled every thought in my head. Every worry, every doubt, everything I’m unsure about with my writing life, and life in general.
And a boulder-like weight lifted from my chest as I realized I don’t need to write the next best thing. I don’t need to follow up The Marked Ones with something epic and amazing (not yet, at least). I just need to write, because when I write I see myself best.
If there’s no story to write, if no idea wants to come out and face me head on, I will simply put my fingers on laptop keys, put pen to paper, and keep going. Keep holding on. Because if I keep following the light, I know I will find good things at the end.
Like cooking, there’s no strict recipe to writing. There are guidelines, and suggestions, but in the end it’s up to the artist to make a piece come to life. In order to do that, we have to trust ourselves, trust the process, and trust no matter how long it takes, we will come out victorious.