As I am wont to do, I was recently writing and writing. And constantly changing my inner outline. One more chapter to go. No, do the chapter and then a sequel. Nope, just an extra chapter and that's it. Nah, the extra chapter, and the sequel!
The problem that sent me towards doubting and reevaluating my ending was a simple phrase a character slipped out in my climax. My immortal spirit, who had planned on using his body as a human cage for death because he couldn't die and thus could handle it, was not actually a prison but an all you can eat buffet for death.
Cue massive hair-pulling. Should I keep this random game changer line, or delete it and follow the original outline? If I kept it, how do I continue the story and have death defeated? I fretted and paced, started threads in brainstorming forums (anyone else on CC?), called a friend who gave me lots of examples of possible solutions from Torchwood and Supernatural, and spilled my soul to a reader and pretty much 'asked what should I do'?
Talking helped, I think best when faced with a question and forced to solve it. Many a brainstorming session is me in the car with my sister askings things like why does the MC hate water (childhood trauma) and why doesn't he just ask for help (uh...point...no reason he shouldn't) and if my aliens don't have arms, what type of weapons do they have? (magic!)
But nothing was helping. And then my reader threw in his two cents on both options and then essentially said do what ever you want, I'd read and enjoy it either way. At which point, I realized that I had already had made a decision before all this fretting had started. What I had actually been looking for was not assistance in my writing, but confirmation that my ideas didn't suck.
I never knew I needed that confirmation before. Or rather, that I hid that need. I have a notebook filled with every review I've gotten (most from fanfictions I've written, yes, but if someone says you moved them to tears with your writing you feel elated no matter what the subject matter) and stats on how many people have read my fics and get e-mail alerts. I'm liked, even if it's a small audience.
So why the sudden insecurity?
That's harder to pinpoint. But I realized it wasn't just this story. I've gone through similar cycles with other tales, and looking back they're all stories I'm obsessive about and love to death. The ones I'm proud off.
It's like, I've just performed at a piano recital and I want people to be talking about what I played and not what the other student in the poofy dress did. I worked hard and I don't want it to be for naught. I don't want to be overlooked.
My agitation and worrying and frantic notes to my sister that she won't get for another three weeks thanks to Ethiopian post, was essentially me sending feelers out for a support system. And once I found it, in a single reader who I only know by their username, I was fine. I could go back to writing. The world was good.
I might not need it all the time, I might not need the same one for every project, but I need a support system. Honestly the idea that I even need one is new. I'm independent! I can take care of things and figure them out by myself! (In hindsight, that may have something to do with the one time I got fired from a job.) But as I realized recently, I really can't. I might be able to do the work by myself, but everything associated with the work I can't. I need to know I'm doing a good job, that it's entertaining, that people love my characters or laughed out loud, or they got that tight feeling in their chest.
Betas, readers, friends (and agents and editors in the hopeful future) are just as important to a book as the author is. They make authors feel valued and not stupid and that results in more novels and stories. We, authors, need to be told to settle down and stop worrying, that things will work out and projects will be completed and that loyal fan will someday appear.