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?
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.
Connect with Orly online at:Website: www.orlykonig.com