Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 1, 2019

The Secrets to Turning A Lemon into a Book

Orly Konig

On October 8, 2015 I fell in love with a seed of a story idea. Over the years, that seed has sprouted countless offshoots and grown into a full-blown story tree. But that lovely story tree has been dropping its lemons on my head faster than squirrels dive-bombing for gourmet roasted nuts.

I’ve worked on this book a number of times over the years only to be interrupted by publishing deadlines (don’t you hate it when that happens?) and life (seriously, the nerve?!). A few months ago, though, I dusted it off, this time with a deadline (mercy!). This is not my first book. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the fifth or sixth one I’ve written. I’ve mostly honed-in on a process that works for me. I know that process shifts some, but for the most part, I have the confidence to know I’ll start and find my way to the end. 

But once in a while (okay, I probably say this about every story, every time, all the time), you come across a book that wants to kill you. Last June, I pulled this story seed out of the idea greenhouse and started working on it in earnest. There’s been growth and pruning, sour fruit to dump, and juice worthy beauties. Most of the time, though, I feel like I have a bullseye on my head.

But with that deadline looming, it was time to rethink a few beliefs …

1) GPS doesn’t necessarily work in the thick of the trees. For anyone who’s read my previous blog posts or followed me on this writing journey, you know I call myself a “pantser with suspenders.” I don’t outline and I don’t plot where the story will go. What I will do though, is mind-map story threads and brainstorm ten things that will happen to my main character throughout the book (small or large, it doesn’t matter).  Armed with those seeds, I dive in and find my way to the other end. 

Except that this book has been a work-in-(some)-progress for over three years now. I stopped working on it when my debut was acquired and revisions came in. I stopped again when my second book was acquired and needed a drastic overhaul. And I stopped again when life took a detour and took my energy and focus with it.

Sometimes the map you’ve used, the process you’ve perfected, the plan you careful outlined stop working. Sometimes they can actually take you in the wrong direction. Without my trusted process, I felt lost and unsteady. Could I even write another book? At some point, I had to admit that my directions I was clinging to weren’t taking me to where I needed to get. I had to let go and start trusting my instincts and ability instead. 

2) It’s okay to backtrack in order to make forward progress.Part way through the first draft, I realized I was missing something big. This lemon tree was growing sideways. So I brainstormed and story-boarded and came up with a brilliant (if I do say so myself) plan. I usually do this after the first draft is complete but this time, because of the starts and stops over so many years, I stopped writing before the first draft was complete, and started revising.  

And it seemed to be going well. Except that reams of paper later, I lost confidence in my new roadmap. Were these changes working or was I repeating myself? Was the scene I just referenced in an earlier chapter or something I remembered that was later in the book or one I’d actually deleted? One step forward, three back. 

For the third time, I abandoned my trusted process before reaching the end of the draft. The last third of this book was still in my head (and sort of in my notes) when I started typing in those new changes. This book doesn’t have an end yet (yes, it’s making me seriously twitchy, what gave me away?!) but by taking those steps backwards, I have a better view of where I’m going. 

3) Wear a helmet. Okay, not literally. That would just be weird and I’d hate for those pictures to show up on social media. This goes back to taking chances. If you’re worried about getting bonked on the head, you won’t look up as you wind your way through the word-forest. You’ll miss the detour signs and the amusing squirrels along the way. You’ll reach the end – whether it’s the right end or a dead end – without taking in the wonderous opportunities along the way.

So put on that imaginary helmet and look up, look around. Don’t be afraid to change course mid-way through a book or delete 2/3 of the first draft (yeah, that was a bit scary).

4) Buy margarita mix. Okay, I’m kidding. And not … celebrate your success (whether that’s with lemonade or margarita’s or chucking lemons at the people who leave rotten reveiws). Celebrate whatever success – every success – you can. Because, oh my god, you guys, there’s so much angst in writing. There’s the doubting if you’ll ever be able to reach the end and if you’ve forgotten how to string two sentences together and whether anyone other than your cat will ever be interested in what you’ve written (and said cat really only wants to shred the paper anyway).

*someone hand me the sugar please – I’ve just found a particularly sour lemon in this last chapter.* 

What’s your trick to get through a hard to wrangle manuscript? 

About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world who now spends her days hanging out with overcaffeinated, imaginary characters and overfed, real cats. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and a member of the Tall Poppy Writers.

She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).

Connect with Orly online at:Website: www.orlykonig.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrlyKonigAuthor/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/orlykonig/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/orly-konig

25 comments on “The Secrets to Turning A Lemon into a Book”

  1. My last book (finally done thank the Lord) was the one that tried to kill me. An extra developmental edit (because one of those lovelies just wasn't enough) and edits trailing off to 3 days before the ARCs came out.

    Jeez, I'm glad that's over.

    As you can tell, I feel your pain, Orly.

  2. Like this so much. I have a book that I’ve rewritten twice, I love the idea but am still finding a way to make it work. I believe eventually I will return to it, in the meantime when an idea floats across my mind concerting the story line or characters, I jot it down.

    1. Oh yes!!!! I have a number of stories that have been marinating in my brain for years now. Every so often, another piece of the puzzle becomes clear and when I'm finally ready to work on the story, it feels more whole. Keep those notebooks going ... they're a sanity saver!

  3. So many excellent metaphors in this funny and on-target article! Thanks Orly!

  4. I love your comment that every so often you come across a book that wants to kill you. That was my most recent one: years in the making (with a pause for another book), and several major drafts in the garbage. I'm happy to say it will be published next year, so it was worth the effort. But man....

  5. I'm there with ya. Current work-in-progress is the one that nearly killed me, but I think I've got it tamed and housebroken now. Started it two years ago in fits and stops with a lot of life changes in between. Finally gave it new life a couple months ago by changing whodunnit, and seriously rethinking the backstory and motivation behind the crime. Keep reminding myself that I'm the author--and therefore the boss of the story, not the other way around!

  6. I'm dealing with a multi-year lemon tree, too, and it kills me when I get up from a writing session that feels SO productive--and realize that all I did was write two sentences and then work backward to tighten ten loose ends.

    1. Focus on the "SO productive" part of that. You're tightening loose ends and perfecting as you go. It may not be speedy forward progress but when you reach the end, it'll be clean.

  7. Your writing is clever even in this blog setting. You certainly have the word crafting down. I'm a plotter and am in awe of pantzers—even those who need suspenders.

  8. Thank you for your straight forward, hilarious and spot-on honesty. As a rookie author, I've been working on my second book for - well, let's just say a very long time. I am a "pantser" at least right now. My journey for published stories has just started, so who knows? I could end up being a plotter. I love your idea of listing 10 conflicts or "OMG moments" that need to happen with your main character before you finish. Wow...why didn't I think of that? Brilliant way to keep this newbie on track keep moving forward! I don't know if this WIP will be the one that kills me, but it certainly is the one that is being trimmed and pruned with very sharp cutters. It's a good thing I started out with 100k words...by the time I'm done, I'll be lucky to have a novella! I've always wanted to try "flash fiction." 🙂

  9. This post could not come at a better time for me! I recently opened my 2016 NaNoWriMo winner...and boy, is it a mess. That said, I love the story! I just don't relish the process I know I need to take to make it good. Your post is encouraging me to forge ahead, keeping the margarita mix nearby, and edit this baby into great shape so I'll have a wonderful book I can be proud of. Thanks, Orly!

  10. […] In our initial drafts the words can pour out without much thought, but during the revision and editing phases we have to think about structure on a sentence level, even a word level. P.J. Parrish examines the powerful art of paragraphing, James Scott Bell ponders how long a sentence should be, Janice Hardy delves into choosing the right words for the scenes and revising unnecessary passive voice, and Orly Konig reveals the secrets to turning a lemon into a book. […]

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