Being a writer is never easy. It’s not an easy job and it’s not an easy life. Some projects feel so natural and just flow like cool clear water while you’re tapping out the words on your computer. And then there are the others, the ones where the words are slow coming like voting results on election night. In either case, when an author, myself included picks up a project we usually have our whole hearts in it…why wouldn’t we. But as we go through and write, edit, write, overthink, write and write and write we inevitably second guess the project occasionally. Perhaps it’s a character, or part of the overall plot, a specific scene or five, or just the way certain chapters or sections have come together. For whatever reason something, maybe one thing or a few just aren’t working, and you can’t figure out why so you can’t make it better.
I’m having those sorts of problems with one of my works in progress as you read this. Something just isn’t jelling; it’s not working or maybe I’m second-guessing myself. I created characters, specifically the main character, Zoe, and gave her characteristics and a lifestyle that some people hold near and dear to them. It defines them and their lives, these people have to fight for acceptance and fight for respect and I wanted my main character to follow some of that journey.
For as much as I love this character, her life, spirit, and her story I worry that I am not doing her justice. In a real-world setting, I am worried that I am not doing her marginalized group the service and honesty that they deserve. I worry I am going to somehow minimize their struggle and just piss people off. As a 40-something-year-old straight white man, how can I really understand, no matter how open-minded, accepting, and worldly I try to be? I can never walk in their shoes; so should I be writing about it in the way that I am? That is the question I have been battling with for months now. I started on this project because I truly thought I could write a great story about redemption, family, and personal triumph. I thought I could write a meaningful story with a Latina female main character who very publicly comes out as a lesbian in the novel and traverses that journey both in Hollywood and in her small rural hometown in Oregon. Now I wonder if I can, and I also wonder if I should (which some have said). It’s a big thing, a huge life moment that I cannot live myself. There are countless men and women in the world struggling with their sexuality, hiding their truth, fighting and hoping for acceptance, and afraid to come out. Countless women have and still struggle and receive backlash both personally and professionally after coming out and I worry that I’ll minimize that struggle.
I’ve got a lot to think about and must come to a final decision sooner rather than later. My publisher wants a book out this year so I’ve some work to do and they have been very understanding about this particular dilemma. So far, they support whatever decision I make. This has been something that’s been on my mind even before I returned from a long writing hiatus, but I’ve been thinking about it more and more as I go over what’s been written already, edited, and written again. I don’t want to offend or upset anyone and perhaps this is a better story for another time. Perhaps I am just not good enough to tell this story the way that it should be told and the way I’d like it told and that’s okay for me to say. I’ve only been writing professionally for ten years so I can say I am not there yet with some aspects of the craft. Yes, it’s a fictional story but it’s about real-life s**t and I have to be aware of that and respect it. Reality is hard but I’m hitting a wall that I can’t write my way around or under.
I’ve shared the current version of the story with some trusted writer friends, some of whom are members of the LGBTQ community, and they have all shared their thoughts. Some adamantly say, “It’s not my story to tell”, some suggest I bring on a coauthor who is in the LGBTQ community or have a sort of “technical advisor.” Some suggest I make Zoe’s coming-out story a story all on its own separate from Voices, a separate book and not part of the Oregon Series. The last one is easier said than done because her personal journey is very intertwined in the rest of the story as it’s currently written. Another suggestion was to just remove the whole coming out aspect of her story, just have her be a lesbian thus removing part of her struggle with fear and acceptance but that is a huge part of HER story. It’s part of her overall transition from what was to what is and what will be and I feel like going that route will weaken her hero’s journey. I’m just so torn. I was supposed to make a decision on this a week ago and announce it but I still haven’t decided yet.
I’ll post a final decision about this soon but If you read this I’d love to hear your thoughts.