You would think after producing four mystery novels that I’d have writing them down to a science. Craft a catchy opening hook, develop an interesting plot with sufficient red herrings, introduce a few new stand-out characters, and catch the killer in eighty-five thousand words. Seriously, how hard could it be?
It turns out that writing every new novel is an arduous
journey because each one of the little buggers is completely different in its
own uniquely quirky way.
I completely rewrote my first manuscript four times until I
was satisfied, and I almost gave up. I clearly remember sitting at my dining
room table tugging on my hair while wondering, “When will this (@#*&!) be
done?” When it was finally finished, I wondered if I even wanted to continue exploring
my creative writing dream and begin another novel because I thought the
experience would be too brutally similar. I doubted I was up to the task.
Talking it over with a wise friend, he said that when I was
ready to quit was when I was really only beginning. I now call him Yoda.
Promising to give it a fair chance, I dug in and to my surprise writing my
second book was pure delight, the quickest one I’ve ever finished. I sat down,
opened my laptop and the story flowed like I was watching a movie on a screen.
The third book involved weaving together three different and
complex family histories and storylines. I had a lot of fun meshing birthdates
and genealogies and that took some time, but in the end, it worked. Book Four came
to me in an inspirational flash while I was listening to Tears for Fears music on
a writer’s retreat. Grabbing my notebook, I scribbled down an initial outline
during one day’s session and now, when I go back and review my notes, I’m
amazed at how much of the completed story was actually represented on those
first few pages. It was pure magic.
And now we come to Book Five.
Book Five involves researching a new setting and a location
and that’s been slowing me down. Because of the internet, finding interesting
new details to share with my readers is easy enough, but I keep getting
distracted by this interesting information, especially when Googling street maps,
and I tumble down long rambling rabbit holes. Eventually, when I do pop back
up, I’m carrying a golden nugget of fact or some fascinating detail that will
make my story so much better, one that I can really use. Then I’ll check the
clock and wonder, “How on earth did writing that paragraph take me four hours?”
I’ve even disbelieved the clock until I stood and my body reminded me that yes,
I really sat planted in my chair for that long.
But mostly what I wanted to share today was about getting
through the sloggy writing bits and finding those magical golden nuggets.
Earlier this week I had three straight days of framing up a new chapter while
thinking, “Where is this going? This is pure crap.” Taking myself for repeated
walks, I considered whether the story was rolling off the rails even while my
writerly instinct told me it was not and that I should continue to follow it
out. Working on blind faith, that’s what I did. I hemmed and hawed and plowed
straight through. The morning of the third day I saw a glimmer of something
good, the merest hint. Fearlessly, I pushed on. On the fourth day I opened the
same draft manuscript, started working on those same crappy paragraphs and
tried again. And then suddenly magic happened. One of my new characters,
previously silent and pretty much in the background stepped forward, transforming
the scene with one surprising move into one filled with dramatic suspense.
Where did that come from? I sat back, grateful and amazed, and in that moment
my creative well of confidence filled back up until it brimmed over. Now I feel
re-energized and ready to see where this odd story is going to take me next. As
its writer and technically its first reader, isn’t this exactly what we want to
experience with our work?
Have you ever wanted to give up on a story project? What was it that made you keep at it and got you through to the end?