Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Fork In the Road

If you have written several manuscripts — or read a bunch of books by the same author — you might notice everyone seems to have a bunch of recurring interests, or themes — different subjects, ideas, concepts that different people are constantly drawn to. So far, my themes seem to be, in no particular order: mirrors, love triangles, missing parents, coming of age while stepping out of a shadow of one’s parent, and thin lines between reality and fantasy. What are yours, or your favorite authors’?

But while you’re thinking about the answer to that, think about this: do you have themes that seem to recur in your life as well?

Here is mine, lately, and the one I am seriously getting tired of: a fork in the road.

Like Robert Frost said in one of his most famous poems of all time:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth…”

Well, I am Robert Frost right now, standing there and looking, except, my road doesn’t seem to fork into two, it seems to diverge into a zillion pathways. This is happening in both writing and life: I face a choice between the security of a full-time job and the scary freedom of full-time writing, a choice between journalism, teaching, full-time, part-time, no-time. And then, to add to that, there are the choices between writing projects. After I finished my first manuscript, I plunged into the second one — a historical fantasy that I’ve been working on for five years now. Re-envisioning it. Over. And over. And over again. My friends love it. My agent thinks it has potential. My darling daughter dreams of it. My long-suffering husband is sick of it.

I love it, too. And I am sick of it. I can’t finish it. I can’t stop trying to finish it. I can’t stop going back to the fork in the road.

I declare, I am done with it. I shall put it away and start on the new story — one of so many that are calling, calling, waiting patiently in the wings. My agent says, work on what you love. But what if I love everything!

I try to start the story, but go nowhere with it. I go back to the Difficult Manuscript. I try again. I fail again.

Have you ever been there?

Forcing yourself to make a choice, then starting to run down one path, where you stumble or fall into a ditch, or even look around at the landscape and frown at the ominous signs of danger and mayhem and uncertainty, and the next thing ypu know you are running back to try another path, only to see the same thing happen.

Or is it just me? 🙂

I don’t lack the will, nor the energy. My friends and family think I have this great talent and the drive to accomplish just about anything. (Thanks guys!)

And maybe they are right. I can stay up late, wake up early. Once I have a plan, a clear vision of where I am going, little can stand in my way. Finishing my first novel was proof. It got hard — so very hard sometimes. I tried taking teaching courses while working on it. I nursed a baby, and my young son just got diagnosed with asthma at that time. I was tired and cranky, though sometimes wild, too, and once in a while, deliciously lost in my writing and deliriously happy. It took six years, give or take. Still, I did it! I finished it, and revised it, and revised it again.

They say once you finish a first manuscript, the second should be easy. Why then do I find myself, running around in circles, lately?

I try and I try to get out of this — I try both too hard, and not hard enough. But I don’t know how to try better.

“Just do it!” a wonderful friend said to me yesterday — one who is a big fan of the Second Novel. “Just finish it!”

I stared at her — a prolific published writer and a mother, with a full-time job, who can produce a manuscript in one to two months.  “That’s what I want, too!” I wanted to yell back at her. (Of course I didn’t). “Please don’t think I’m lazy!” I didn’t yell. “I can do butt-in-the-chair! I can put in the hours! And, I think I can even write. But I can’t seem to be able to finish that story!”

I feel like, if only I could get out, take a path and stay on it, no one could stop me, I couldn’t possibly fail. But once the path is taken, I kick myself for making the wrong choice. I feel paralyzed, just standing and standing there like a dolt, trying to guess what awaits me, as though life comes with guarantees.

I will persevere. I have to, somehow. I will find a way. Right?

All I need to do is choose. And stay on the chosen path with conviction. How hard can it be, really?


September 1, 2011 - Posted by | Personal Mirror, Writing Mirror | , , ,


  1. I don’t envy you with so much to think about. I think I would just set up camp in the crossroads and refuse to move 🙂

    I hope you come to a decision that makes you happy with the second novel.

    Comment by Sarah Pearson | September 1, 2011 | Reply

    • LOL, Sarah! Right now, it’s making a choice, whether to keep working on the second one, or set it aside and move on to the next book. (Or another book alltogether. Or take a writing hiatus. Or shred the Second Book — delete it, I mean — so its weight falls off my shoulders forever.) Somebody get me a tent 🙂

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 2, 2011 | Reply

  2. Dearest Beloved Katia,
    …Deep…Deep…Cleansing Breaths…in…and…out….
    I do believe that you have just written the start of a wonderful, helpful book right here, right now!! Do you know how many people experience this very “fork-in-the-road” situation in so much of life? Not only as a writer? You say it so well and many others could benefit by knowing that someone else deeply feels the same way:) Keep on writing…stuck or not stuck one day at a time and you will conquer and be victorious!!!
    My only practical advice would be if you and your family are struggling financially, you may need to get a fulltime or partime job for a while, but if you are getting by OK with maybe some minor inconveniences then, I say LIVE TO WRITE AND WRITE TO LIVE!!! When you get to that fork, say a prayer and jump right in not turning back to see what could have been but fully embracing the path before you. There is so much inside of you that waits to be discovered. Remember… deep… deep… breaths:)
    A fan,

    Comment by Janet Stoltzfus | September 2, 2011 | Reply

    • Great advice — breathing is good 🙂
      Thank you so much for your encouraging words — they really mean a lot.


      Comment by Katia Raina | September 2, 2011 | Reply

  3. These forks are tough. I say go with gut instinct and do what you feel most passionate about.

    I know I’ve made the “wrong” choices in the past, but those wrong choices led to learning experiences and manuscripts that made me what I am today.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | September 2, 2011 | Reply

    • You are so right. Maybe that’s what I need to realize — that every choice can’t be right — or better yet, every choice can be both right and wrong at the same time. Simple, but perfect. You’re the best, Medeia!

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 2, 2011 | Reply

  4. Oh my, no, it’s not just you. I’ve dithered between many different paths also. Especially when it comes to which manuscript to work on. But also careers, etc.

    Ah, Katia. You are a writer. Keep writing. I don’t think it matters WHAT you write, as long as you write. I’m just starting to learn that my way of finishing a novel is not someone else’s way. If I need to set it aside for 6 months or a year and tackle a different writing project and then come back to it, that’s my way.

    If you really need to get a job, go for it. Just carve out time for yourself and your writing. (But I agree with Janet, if you can possibly stay home and write full time, then do it! I would if I could.) I work nearly full-time and have a house and a husband and still one son living at home (the other is grown and on his own). I need to read a lot for my job (and because I love to). So I fit the writing in when I can. But I can’t stop writing anymore than I can stop breathing. I have the feeling you’re the same way.

    I’m saying perhaps it doesn’t matter if you keep abandoning a novel and going back to it. Working on it when you’re sick of it won’t produce much. Working on it when you’re in love with it will. You know I’ve just abandoned a novel after 18K words because I realized it wasn’t working for me. But I’ve already plunged into something new and written a lot just since the hurricane. And I’m excited about it! I love that feeling.

    Keep us posted.

    Comment by Joanne Fritz | September 4, 2011 | Reply

    • How do you do this, Joanne, give such wonderful advice when it hasn’t even been that long that we’ve known each other? Here is a quote I have come upon recently: “Not writing is probably the most exhausting profession I’ve ever encountered. It takes it out of you. It’s very psychically wearing not to write — I mean if you’re supposed to be writing.” Fran Lebowitz, quoted by Eric Maisel in “Fearless Creating.” I could sign under every word, so I guess yeah, I AM a writer. I can’t get away from that.

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 4, 2011 | Reply

  5. So here’s what I did with all those story ideas begging to be written. I finally said, okay I am not waiting any longer. I’m going to put them all into one story! It’s a wild and crazy idea but I think it might work. It does help that they carry similar themes. (seems to me that is where you started this post, isn’t it – recurring themes?)

    Couple of things:

    Family – you will never regret it if you continue to give your family the quality time and energy that you are now. I suppose that could be a predictable job OR it could be staying at home and writing while giving up some luxuries (any expenses you can drop, places you can cut back? which would be the greater sacrifice – giving up a particular expense or giving up writing so you can go earn money?)

    Writing doesn’t pay. So even if you sell your novels and finish some more there is a slim chance of making money at it. Now if you win a major award which is certainly possible, it’s a whole other story! But that doesn’t happen to most of us. You can, however, earn income from speaking but it does help to have fiction published first! – Although you have a story that some of us just don;t have! There might be some venues out there for sharing it. Something to ponder. (like you needed another option!)

    Every story has its own timing. Some things just can’t be rushed. The story that you can’t finish just might need more time to grow in you. It is really okay to embrace that and just live. I’m fairly certain the story will work itself out.

    Love you, Katia – praying you’ll find your way in this yellow wood.

    Comment by Joyce Moyer Hostetter | September 5, 2011 | Reply

    • Joyce,

      Thanks you for being part of this conversation. It wouldn’t have been the same without you 🙂
      I love this: “Every story has its own timing.”
      I think I finally agree: sometimes beating your head against the computer really isn’t the way to go.

      Love you too!!! Thanks so much for listening, and for caring.

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 5, 2011 | Reply

  6. First off thank you for having the courage to write this piece that reflects so eloquently what so many of us – me included – experience. Remember the novel that you critiqued for me so long ago…the one aptly titled Pieces of Me…well it continues to be in disarray, the albatross around my neck…and it too is my second novel. I guess it’s true what they say.

    And now I have about ten projects all started, all abandoned and I too am at a fork in the road. Yesterday I worked on Pieces, today I decided to pick up the YA novel that I abandoned at page 156. It’s a constant internal battle. Which story is mine to tell? Which one can I do justice? Which one will sell? Which one won’t kill me? But what I am learning (slowly anyway) is that my worst enemy is not my lack of talent, but rather the voice in my head that is always demanding that I decide right this very instant the absolute perfect thing to do. As someone said above, sometimes you make a mistake, but even a mistake isn’t a mistake because you learn from it and grow. So try to go easy on yourself. With each day travel down the path that feels right for that day. Maybe if you go easy on yourself, the whole process will free itself up and become pleasurable the way it seemed to be for your first novel.

    I’ll try to take my own advice 🙂

    Comment by writertoni | September 7, 2011 | Reply

    • Wow, first off thanks so much for stopping by to comment — and for your advice — AND for answering my first question about the theme of your life. “Pieces of Me” does seem to be fitting to what you describe, so many novels started! I think I agree with what many here said (mostly Joyce), that a book might just be too big for the writer at this point in their writing career. It might just have to wait a while. So,it’s okay — healthy even, to step away from a choice. But Toni, I do believe in choosing. Only then can you make a commitment to your work — the kind it deserves from you. Are you into those “writing inspiration/creativity” books? For better or worse, I must admit that I am — and one of them, called “Fearless Creating,” by Eric Maisel, which I have mentioned here before, has a whole chapter on choosing. I would really recommend this book for you and anyone who is standing at the fork in the road. While “Pieces of Me” might be too tough for you right now, like my second book is too tough for me, I am sure among your ideas there is ONE fun, great one that IS ready. Not a perfect story, of course — you know just like I do by now — there is no such thing. But one story. Find the courage to write that one. You do have the talent already. And for the record, I STILL love “Pieces of Me.” I can’t wait to see it published, WHENEVER it might be 🙂

      Once again, it really means a lot that you stopped by and shared your own story.

      Comment by Katia Raina | September 7, 2011 | Reply

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