This guest post is part of the SKYLARK Blog Tour as well as the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is debut author Meagan Spooner revealing hers…
Guest post by Meagan Spooner
Fear is a terrible thing for a writer to deal with—and yet it’s probably one of the most universal things we face. Fear of failure, fear of ridicule. Fear of having our dreams taken away by rejection. Fear of being told we’re not good enough. Fear of being told there was some kind of mistake, we don’t deserve our successes. It can be crippling, sticking in the front of your mind like a big gummy blob clogging up the flow of creativity. And as a wise little green guy once said, fear can lead to anger—fear makes us bitter, jealous, looking around at every other writer who has everything we wish we had.
I began writing the novel that would become my debut, SKYLARK, in spring of 2010. I’d quit my job the year before to attend a writing workshop that changed my life, and was living with my parents, trying to “do the book thing.” But the thing is, I wasn’t, not really. I poked at short stories now and then, I wrote random chapters of random book ideas, I meandered from project to project. I never finished anything—because what would I do if I finished something? I’d have to send it in to someone. I’d have to get rejected. Because while the workshop I attended taught me years’ worth of craft in a matter of weeks, it also showed me every one of my inadequacies as a writer.
Sometimes the fear is illogical—what if my best friend reads this and realizes that I can’t write, and that somehow translates into me being a terrible person, and she decides to hate me? But sometimes the fear is all too possible—what if I send this out and it gets rejected, and the experience is so terrible that it kills my love of writing? What if by trying to reach for this dream, I destroy it?
I knew I was afraid. And I felt guilty for being afraid. I tried to push my fears away, to say they were all ridiculous, that I was better than that, that I wasn’t going to sit here and worry my life away. But denying my fears only turned them into a sort of red-eyed monster under the bed, just waiting for me to let my guard down, waiting for me to have one bad day so that the fear-monster could jump on me in my weakened state.
But then I got the idea for SKYLARK, which at that time had the working title of THE IRON WOOD. And that was when everything changed. All its other themes and stories and arcs aside, SKYLARK is a story about fear. It follows a girl who’s lived her entire life inside a dome, and when she escapes, she finds that she’s an agoraphobe, and is afraid of wide open spaces—more specifically, she has ouranophobia. She’s afraid of the sky.
I decided that it was the right story to write. It was worth writing, and it was worth finishing. Even if it killed my dream, it was the story I wanted to write. Because I wanted to write about someone afraid of something so ubiquitous, something we take so much for granted. Something we hardly even notice. Something she has to see, and has to face, every day.
When I first began writing, I intended for my main character to overcome her fear completely through the course of the novel. Her name is Lark—she’s named after a bird. She belongs in the sky. She and I would embark on this journey together, and we’d face our fears together, and she’d be cured and I’d be cured. I’d come out the other side with a finished work, and it’d be daunting and exciting to send it out into the world, but I wouldn’t be afraid.
What I learned instead is that the fear never goes away. But I also learned that fear is important. We feel fear for a reason. Evolutionarily speaking, fear is a reaction that kept our ancestors alive—it made us run faster and farther to escape predators, to think more quickly to evade them. In SKYLARK, Lark’s fear keeps her alive too. She keeps to the ruins, to the forests, to the caves—she evades the horrors searching for her in the wilderness beyond the Wall. Over the course of writing the book, and of wading into the writing community at the same time, I came to understand that the fear is valuable.
Fear isn’t bad. Being afraid doesn’t make you a bad person. Acknowledging your fears doesn’t mean you’re a coward.
Fear led me to prepare my query letter to within an inch of its life. It meant that I could do nothing else to do improve it, and it stood the best possible chance of getting agent attention. Fear made me examine every line, every word of my manuscript, so that the version I sent in response to requests was as good as I could possibly make it. And even after I had a book deal, even after I’d gone through the entire revision process, fear made me pore over the final pass pages, my last chance to make changes to the manuscript, searching for one tiny punctuation mark out of place or a word that shouldn’t be there. But the most important thing is to be able to put your fear aside at the end of the day, to be able to take deep breaths, to not be so afraid that you stop.
Even now fear is my strongest motivator. While writing the second book of the SKYLARK trilogy I was terrified that I wouldn’t live up to whatever promise I’d made in the first one—that I was a one-trick pony, and that now everyone was going to find that out. I was afraid of failing all over again. But I was more afraid of letting down my editor and my agent—I was more afraid of not finishing. And so I did finish. And it was the hardest thing I ever did.
By the end of SKYLARK, Lark isn’t cured. And by the end of writing it, neither was I. But she comes to understand her fears—when to listen to them, and when to acknowledge that she has to move through them. She learns how to live with them. You don’t defeat fear in some climactic battle or single decision—it’s an ongoing struggle, every day, wherein you look the red-eyed monster in the face and say “Yes, I see you. But you can’t stop me.”
The very last line of the book reads:
We left the field of metallic corpses behind and walked on across the valley, beneath the vast and terrible beauty of the dawn.
The sky is beautiful—the sky is terrible. And this is the true nature of fear.
Because bravery isn’t the absence of fear—it’s action in spite of fear.
Meagan Spooner grew up reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, an astronaut. She graduated from Hamilton College in New York with a degree in playwriting, and has spent several years since then living in Australia. She’s traveled with her family all over the world to places like Egypt, South Africa, the Arctic, Greece, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.
She currently lives and writes in Northern Virginia, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.
In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.
She is the author of SKYLARK, coming out August 1 from Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Books. She is also the co-author of THESE BROKEN STARS, forthcoming from Disney-Hyperion in Fall 2013.
GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED…
Congratulations to the winner of a *signed* first-edition hardcover of Meagan Spooner’s debut novel Skylark! The winner is…
Congrats, Katrina! I will email for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered and to the author for providing her book for a giveaway!