Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Fighting to the Finish Line by Martha Reed

I’m independently self-published. It’s up to me to create my own publishing deadlines. That’s a good thing since it means that I’m not legally bound to a publisher’s schedule or a publishing contract.

Until 2020 when the COVID-19 epidemic hit, I had trained myself to produce a solid daily word count, working the creative treadmill and happily producing one new mystery novel a year.

Then, in 2021, not so much.

My creative well dried up. Yes, I could still edit pre-existing drafted material, and that’s what I did, but I couldn’t seem to muster the creative energy or enough focus to produce anything new. It was as if the front of my brain was so occupied with current event stresses, I couldn’t find a way to relax into my usual creative and meditative space. The outside world kept interrupting and intruding on my attempts at any cohesive and long-term creative thought.

I’ve asked other writers and creative folk what they experienced during 2020-2021. It seems like there were two opposite reactions. Some, like me, dried up. Others swung the other way, almost rejoicing in the new enforced solitude and producing a ton of new material.

By the end of 2021, I started to feel genuinely concerned over my extended dry spell. What if what I’d had was gone? Was my creative writing career over? Was that it? But I loved writing so much, and for so long. If I stopped writing stories, what would I do to fill that great gaping new hole in my life?

A very wise writer once told me: “When you’re ready to give up is when you’re really only starting.”

So, I doggedly kept at it, plugging away. It didn’t help matters that at the time I was drafting the new novel’s “muddle in the middle” which is traditionally difficult to push through anyway. (Friendly writerly tip: Character development reveals, and plot point sub-arcs are two very handy tools to use.) I started joking that it was a good thing my star sign was Taurus because by God I was going to need to bull my way through this manuscript to get it done.

Then, crossing the 65,000-word threshold, the miracle happened again, as it always does. The story suddenly developed its own independent downhill momentum and took off at a dead run. I needed to type like a mad woman just to keep up. Chapters were shorter, descriptors spot on, narrative more concise. Characters were speaking to each other. They no longer needed me to draft the setting or make suggestions. I was simply the hired typist. And when this miraculous thing does happen, I’ve learned to simply get out of the way and let the story tell itself to its glorious and blazing finish.

For me, this is the best feeling in the world and one I will always cherish. So, if you’re feeling mentally fatigued and uninspired and all dried up, or if you’re mired in the muddle in the middle, take heart. Remember the last time you felt this feeling and carry on because that creative rapture is out there in the ether waiting for us.


  1. Good words for many of us to hear. Thank you, Martha.

  2. Hi Jim - good morning. Thank you! I thought that there might be other writers out there who felt like I did and might need a bit of encouragement. I hope all is well and you're writing like mad.

  3. Toughing it out works for me, too, Martha, once I get started. But sometimes I need a good push to even get started. There's a natural born lollygagger in me who wants the upper hand. Time to go wrestle with her again . . .

  4. It's wonderful when everything comes together and a novel takes off on its own.

    You are to be commended on hanging in there until that happened! It's so easy to give up.

  5. Once I put in the 65,000 words I'm too stubborn to give up. LOL It is odd though how different stories tell themselves. The Choking Game came easy enough. The Nature of the Grave was a bear through the middle muddle but then it came out alright. Book 3, No Rest for the Wicked felt like I was watching a movie and only needed to type it down. Love Power went back to being easy. This new one (I can't name it until the first draft is done, superstition) is a lovely snarl. I guess books are like children. Each one is different!