“Augustine Hosts” comprises a blog series which features guest blog posts from different authors and bloggers. The main aim is for “Ink&Papercuts” to act as a unique platform where people across the world can express their views on creative writing and the publication process in all its forms and variations.
Pushing Past Uncertainty: Follow What Markers You Can
By Samuel Gately
So…the book Gormenghast of the Ghormenghast trilogy may not be the best book ever written, but it is up there on my very top shelf of favorites. It’s clever, imaginative, and totally immersive. For those unfamiliar, I recommend you immediately go read at least the first two of the series, then come right back. Go ahead, we’ll wait a couple weeks/months. (They are rather long.) Gormenghast is a fantasy of manners set in a sprawling castle. The principal character is a young, reluctant heir to the throne but the castle itself is just as important a character. The book contains at least three of my top ten literary scenes (for those of you who’ve visited the Gormenghast Castle, one involves marbles, one involves floods, and the other I’ll get to momentarily). I want to talk about one of these scenes in particular and why I think on it often as I undertake my own personal writer’s journey.
The basic outline of the scene I’m referencing is thus: two characters recognize that a third is up to no good and conspire to follow him. One gathers allies while the other is in pursuit. In order to set the course, the man in pursuit marks the winding castle passages with chalk, allowing his allies to catch up as they all track their objective. I’m not doing the “climate of sharp and dangerous breath” justice, but let me pull the key quote to set up this analogy, related to the markings (arrows) left by the lead follower by the name of Flay.
There were times when these arrows were of necessity closer together; when the paths divided, or there was any kind of choice of direction. At other times, when, with high, flanking walls on either side, or a mile of doorless passageways ahead, and where there was no alternative direction to confuse his followers, Flay had not troubled to make his chalk marks for long stretches.
I think about this atmosphere often. It looks a lot like large chunks of our lives. We all begin with clear markings and direction. We are, hopefully, if things are as they should be, nurtured and supported. Family, friends, and allies help us find our course and guide us. But as we advance into murkier territory, the more specific and unique path that calls to us as an individual, those markings become rarer, more difficult to find, and easier to misinterpret. Most troublingly, it becomes easier to simply stop moving forward towards our objectives. It requires an act of faith to continue forward through “miles of doorless passageways” when we haven’t seen a reassuring arrow for a long time.
But that is exactly what we have to do. If you are someone pursuing an individual goal like a writing career, you know the desperation to find more arrows. You want reassurance. You want certainty. These come in the form of praise for your work, financial success, even your own satisfaction in your words. But they can be frustratingly hard to come by. Your own satisfaction will wax and wane. Getting readers to pay attention to your work proves to be shockingly competitive even before you ask for money. Long periods of time are devoted to very low feedback activities, like generating the first draft of a novel. And it may take you a year before you ever even attempt to summarize the plot of that novel for a friend. At that point hopefully you get more than a blank look.
We pretty much all live in that world. Everyone suffers from uncertainty and even the most successful writers suffer from imposter syndrome. But the most successful writers have one thing in common. I mean, aside from generally being exceptional at writing. They didn’t stop during those “miles of doorless passageways”. They found what few markings they could, paid attention to them, and kept moving forward even when it felt like guidance was remote, off-point, or completely absent.
So that’s my advice to others undertaking the journey. Look for markings. Adjust and improve your course and craft based on those markings. But most of all, just keep going. It’s better to get lost in pursuit of your dreams than to stand still in the one hallway that you know isn’t what you’re looking for.
Enjoy the journey (now the analogy is getting labored, because no one was enjoying the journey in the book). But I’ll take license. I’m a writer, and I know because I’ve chosen to follow this path and have no intention of stopping any time soon. Hope to see you along the way.
Samuel Gately is a writer of novels and short stories in the fantasy genre. Most have spies in them. Samuel lives in Oak Park just outside Chicago with his wife, daughters, and overly fluffy dogs. You can find his books here. And if you want to see more evidence of the influence of chalk markings on his writing, look very closely at the cover of his debut.