The Maybe Flower – What Maybe Does to Your Writing

“One of the hallmarks of fear is tendency to surround ourselves with more projects, more responsibilities, more stuff.”

Maybe is a powerful word, isn’t it?

After all, maybe is the creator of possibilities. It brings the imagination to life and stirs the world of options. But maybe has a darker side as well…

I’ve mentioned many times that my first novel was absolutely dreadful. Yet, each time I say it I wonder what I’m supposed to do about it and what sort of damage comes from constantly berating the work gone by. What happens is that your lose confidence in yourself and the Maybe Flower springs up in the garden of your mind.

I am writing five novels at once, which is to say I’m not writing anything at the moment.

I ended up with five novels because somewhere along the way I became afraid of my next book. I ask questions of the work, questions that begin with the word maybe:

“Maybe I should write a mystery.”

“Maybe I should write an existential novel.”

“Maybe I should just focus on my essays.”

“Maybe I should get back to writing spec-fic.”

And on it goes… The Maybe Flower is prodigious and aggressive. Its roots run deep and it is very difficult to remove, but not impossible.

One of the hallmarks of fear is tendency to surround ourselves with more projects, more responsibilities, more stuff. Taken together, this bricolage forms a buffer to the real work that needs doing. This is a fertile compost for the Maybe Flower and perhaps here is where you begin. Rather than try to uproot the Maybe Flowers you should change the conditions so that it is impossible for the Maybe Flower to flourish.

I think the best way to do this is to see your project through to the end.

Michael Jasper is working through a marathon session to finish editing his latest book. It’s exciting stuff. I know what that feels like: the end is in sight, everything is flowing, you can hardly sleep because you can’t wait to get cracking again. Good times.

In his latest post, Michael writes that he recently came across a review of his first novel. He noted that it wasn’t quite as snarky as the review he received from Kirkus. I loved this quote:

That’s why it’s a first novel, folks. Got to get those chops up to speed. Two negative reviews still don’t compare to the dozen or so good reviews the book got, and anyway, I still wouldn’t change anything about the book.

What a fantastic attitude! Even better is the fact that he is moving forward with the current book. He is working hard (and having fun) by finishing the project he has in front of him.

I doubt that Michael is without his own little garden of Maybe Flowers. It seems impossible to avoid, but Michael is focused and that’s a lesson many of us (especially me) should learn.

25 thoughts on “The Maybe Flower – What Maybe Does to Your Writing

  1. Thanks, Dave. I agree. The ‘who’ is a popular source of Maybe Flowers. 😉

  2. Ah, yes. I’m with ya on this one. As I start a new novel, I find myself easily distracted–and I know that’s because I’m afraid. I know it won’t be as good as I want it to be.

    Heather’s last blog post..The Arbitrary in Art

  3. Great entry — I can totally relate to this: “taken together, this bricolage forms a buffer to the real work that needs doing” when it comes to my day job — so many little projects and odds and ends, all of it busy-work. It’s almost relaxing to come home and work on one thing — my novel. I just can’t juggle all these things like I used to. One thing at a time, when it comes to my fiction, at least!

  4. Thanks for dropping by, Heather.

    The perception of what is or will be good is paralyzing for a lot of writers. I’ve literally churned through tens of thousands of words debating this point with myself over the years. I try not to think about the stories that could have come out of that work. Better to move on to the next step.

  5. @Mike I have the same sort of overhead in my job-job, so my writing time is pretty sacred. That can also be a source of Maybe Flowers – time to precious to “waste”.

    Thanks for popping in! I’m really looking forward to reading that post where you finish up the editing. 🙂

  6. Jamie are you reading my sticky notes? I came across a quote this week that really nails a related issue. I’ll post about it soon. But more to the point, sometimes we allow ourselves to be so sidetracked ferreting out the best angle or trying to be “comprehensive” in our approach even after we settle on one project. Sometimes we even tell ourselves that we “have” to do this so readers don’t think we’re ignorant (or your modifier of choice); but really it’s an excuse that we’re using as a buffer (barrier).

    I definitely agree with Dave. Some whos don’t want to see others succeed and think nothing of sending people down wild rabbit trails in search of Alice, or the Holy Grail. The problem is they sound like they are sincerely trying to help you succeed but all their leads are dead-ends.

  7. Well, if the quality of this article (as measured by how much I enjoyed it) is any measure, your “maybe flowers” should all go away. This was really good to read, informative and fun–that’s my kind of post.

    And I second (or third, or fourth) what is being said about coming home and having that precious time to write. Being able to focus on that and only that is a beautiful thing. I’m starting to realize how much fun it is to write in the early morning!

    Ryan’s last blog post..Clarity in the Morning

  8. @Deb As always I’m looking forward to your post. I haven’t been reading your sticky notes though. 🙂

    The idea for this post came out of the blue when I read Mike’s post. I was going to write something else but it turned into this instead. Not sure if that was a Maybe Flower at work, I guess we’ll see if I go back and finish the first one.

    @Ryan Thanks for the kind words! I like the design of your site by the way. Good looking theme. 🙂

  9. MAYBE……all of us maybes should just partner up…kind of like ER and work together.
    I bet I can add to your first bad first novel…you can add to mine…and our collective talent can move a mountain. One thing I have learned at ER is that together, the improvement is FAST.
    We writers don’t always have to be the lone ranger.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Feet in the Sand

  10. “I was going to write something else but it turned into this instead.” So the shoe’s on the other foot this time, huh? Well if I don’t get cracking this Friday’s post will end up on Sunday like last Friday’s.

  11. @Wendi It worked for Voltron, so why not us?

    Laughs aside, you’re right about not being the lone ranger. Writers not only work better when working with other writers, they accomplish more. There’s nothing quite like having someone of a similar mindset and talent kicking your butt and repping your work. Thanks for the great comment, Wendi. When I dig up my books from the lead-lined vault beneath my house, I’ll take you up on that offer. 🙂

    @Deb LOL!

  12. We could be defenders of the written word…

    Now go get that that stuff out of the vault. Fear never achieved anything! It needs a little sunlight.

    Wendi Kelly’s last blog post..Big Erasers

  13. Okay Jamie, it’s up; and it’s still Friday.

    And a big thumbs-up on what Wendi said. “Defenders of the written word.” I have to share that with my NaNo buddies. Most of them are into fantasy and gaming and they will be all over that. Hey maybe we’ve found a candidate for our motto this year.

    Deb’s last blog post..Not finished, or just never started

  14. My Maybe Flower has grown into a jungle that requires a machete to chop through it. Thanks to you, I’m strapping on my wading boots, grabbing the machete and heading in – if I’m not back soon, send the rescue squad!

  15. @Karen Best of luck! I’ll check in on your gardening exercises. 🙂

    @WriterDad I just read a bit about setting ideas aside in Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy. This is a great book even if you aren’t into that genre. Card’s advice on learning to spot the right time for a story is excellent. Thanks for commenting!

  16. @Lady O Trout Oh, I don’t think that blogging is the best way to write a book. Blogging is the best way to write a blog, but that doesn’t mean that the practice of blogging won’t help you. In fact, by blogging and reaching out to the community of writers you may very well find your voice. Just make sure that you keep your eye on the goal and don’t let your blogging distract you from your goal.

    That’s sort of the heart of this piece. Focus and don’t let the Maybe Flowers take root in the garden of your mind.

    Of course, if this fails, just sit down at the keyboard and write. Then come back the next day and the next and the next… In fact, this is the only reliable method I have discovered. It works every time.

    As for the universal question of what to write, perhaps a better question is what’s keeping you from having something to write about? Are you hiding something under the covers? Is there something you are terrified of, but in fact are desperately wanting to put down on paper?

    Write about the thing that turns you inside out. If your hands aren’t shaking, then dig deeper.

    Trust me. Once you’ve written the words that hit you that hard, you won’t have any trouble at all finding things to write about. Everything else will be easy.

    Thanks for stopping in, Kelly. From your sites, it looks like you are writing a lot already. I hope this helps.

  17. Interesting concept, Jamie. Come to think of it, I can see where a field or two of “maybe flowers” are what has kept me working on the same blasted novel for more than a decade. It started out with fears about my writing talent, and now I think I’m kind of afraid of finishing it, odd as it sounds.

    A. B. England @ Tekaran Lady’s last blog post..Returning from Maternity Leave

  18. Your imagery surrounding the Maybe Flower is now plastered over my desktop as an inspiration (to finish what I start before moving on). I’ve been unwittingly growing Maybe Flowers for ages, as they’re so pretty to look at. Oh, and double well done for getting the word ‘bricolage’ in. Marvellous.


  19. @ABE Fear of success is my biggie, so I with you on being afraid to finish your work. You should definitely check out Ralph Keyes Courage to Write. The book addresses many different writing fears and offers great support and advice for kicking. P.S. Welcome back! 🙂

    @Charlie Thanks! P.S. Great shot of the Corona Portable Model #3 on your site!!! 😉

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