A writer who loves fantasy, avoids reality, and who knows the value of hanging a death skull outside my door to ward off uninvited visitors.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Journey We All Take As Writers

This morning, I checked my messages over on FACEBOOK and found one by a good friend of mine, Garrett. He asked me something that got me thinking not only about my personal journey as a writer, but also those of other writers out there. In essence, when do we move on to another story? When do we convince ourselves it's time to walk away and begin something new?

I think it's a question every writer eventually asks him/herself. I mean, how can we not? We put ourselves out there in the most vulnerable way, expressing our thoughts, our emotions and the stories that make us who we are today. Without such deep contribution to our work, it can easily fall flat, bordering on two-dimensional. So, with so much vested in the books we write, when is the right time to walk away without feeling like we're actually taking the easy way out of being dragged down by our own sense of perfectionism?

Being a perfectionist myself, I can tell you what I told Garrett. Only we can judge for ourselves when the time is right. I still remember when it began for me. The day I first started working on David Thorne, back in 2003. It started with my drawing a creature I created, which I still have. She'll make her debut appearance in book four (I believe it's four, if not five). I remember so clearly, sitting there, in bed, with a sketch pad leaning against my legs, pencil in hand, my mind filled with a sense of giddiness I hadn't felt before. So I drew her, thinking, "Is this ever going to be anything?". Then, it was like the floodgates opened, and out came a million other creatures, characters, ideas, names, story lines. But most importantly, possibilities. I loved it. I literally thought about the book (and the series as a whole) 24 hours a day, driving, cooking, shopping. It didn't matter. I was consumed.

When I told my mom about my new venture, which in all honesty, had been brewing in me since I was a kid, she asked when I'd start writing (I was still in the development stage). I told her what I'd told my hubby on day one. "I'll start writing it when I know I'm ready." And so I did....exactly one year coincidentally...from the day I drew that first creature. In that year, I developed the characters, their back stories, the world, the magic, the history of the magicals and the tales that brought them to present day. I even created stores, shops, restaurants, the food they ate, the music they listened to, the hobbies they had, how they played. I mean, every conceivable detail. And when I was done, I started writing the first book.

Interestingly, the original first book was nearly 700 pages. I finished it three months later and when I was done, I actually sat back and smiled. I thought I would explode. I ran to my hubby and shouted over and over, "I did it! I finished! I wrote a book!" He was so happy for me. But then he said something that I will never forget, as it still haunts me today (and we still laugh about it to no end, believe me).

He said, and I quote, "Now the hard part starts."

I looked at him like he was crazy. He'd been there with me every step of the way as I worked on this book. He knew how much of myself I'd put into it. That was the hard part, fun as it was. But I wrong. Not about the fun aspect of creating and writing DT. But about the hard part beginning with typing that last word in the book.

Of course, the next day, it made sense. That was when I started the dreaded editing process. A process every writer hates more than bomb-wielding nut-jobs. Okay, maybe not that much, but you get the idea. I went through that book over and over, changing this and rewriting that for six months. And when I was done, it was sightly longer, though tighter. That's when I began looking up agents and publishers. I'd never done anything like that before, so just seeing the term Literary Agent online made me squeal like a school girl, and it yet terrified me. Had I bitten off more than I could chew? Was I in over my head? I'm nobody. Did I really think I could do this? I mean, what the heck's a query letter? What's a synopsis? What bio? It was all so foreign to me. But I dove in and learned as much as I could through Google searches and writing forums. The most unnerving thing I uncovered was that my 119k word middle grade book was waaaay too long for that market, and even longer still for a debut novel.

So I took two chapters out of the book, and wrote an entirely new one around it. THAT became the current first book in the series, and what was left behind became book two. So it actually worked out beautifully. But of course, now I had to start rewriting and reediting all over again. My blood curdled just thinking about it, what with all the rounds of edit and rewrites I'd just gone through with the original book. But it had to be done, so again, I dove in, head first. It took a long time to get it to where it is now, and even today, I can't go back and look at it because I know, as a perfectionist, it will never be perfect.

"Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned." -Oscar Wilde

How true is that? Oh god! So, I walked away. Honestly, I love the book as is. I'm immensely proud of it. So I say to all authors who ask themselves if it's okay to put it down and start something new: Just do it, because when that last breath leaves us one day, the last thing we want to say is, "I wrote A book."

One more thing I'd like to add before I end this. I want to thank my hubby for always being there for me. Ready with amazing ideas and unending inspiration, support and love. Without him, I would never had be able to push ahead. I know how that sounds, but he has always been there, ready to give me his thoughtson every aspect I approached him about. Never judging. Laughing with me, not at me. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

So, it's important to have a great support system.

What about your journey? Are you a perfectionist? Share it here and inspire others with YOUR story.


  1. I know when it is done when the voices stop talking and they do. This is something that readers don't understand especially when it is true crime. They want more. Sadly, there isn't more. Sure the victims families speak out, long lost friends(sort of like a lottery winner's friends) speak out. The families say thank you- the long lost friends want their fifteen minutes of fame, they want to be a part of the picture. But the voices arer silent. Their story is told, they have found the peace they need- there is never closure- but there if finally piece.
    In my fiction- there are very few books that need a bigger voice. Once that story is told- the voices either get silent or they hide until they are ready for a new adventure.
    One can only rewrite a book so many times before it becomes mush, sort of like beating a dead horse.
    I agree with you, we know when it is time to close that story- our characters tell us.
    And yes then the hard part begins.

    1. Well said, Yvonne. And you know, I never really thought about the idea of true crime knowing best when the story's over. I mean, I know it's true, but it's one of those things one doesn't think about it if it's not their area, I suppose.

  2. I'm a little different with my writing. I am a horror writer and one of the things I am best known for is pretty much killing everyone. So when the last person falls in a pool of his own blood, or slips on his entrails while running from the mass of zombies, that's when the story is over.

    1. OMG, Thom. Couldn't have said it better myself. And by the way, thanks for the in-your-face comment. I almost spit my water across the room!

  3. Thank you Cindy for posting this. I am glad I could inspire you to write about your experience, because I have had to think about mine to answer. Simply put, my dear departed Mom always kept books around the house. I read often as a child, even after she passed away. I have written stories ever since I was in grade school, and I've tinkered around with various genres -- Science Fiction, Fantasy-Adventure, Mysteries and Thrillers. I had to write a lot of pages, abandon a few ideas, and take copious notes of the things that float inside my head before I found my niche. I am a writer who firmly believes we all draw on our own life experiences, no matter what they are, in our work. When we mix those with a touch of invention, magic happens. I have been there, where I doubted my ability as a storyteller. Either I had not written something in a while because of other commitments, or I only had friends and family to critique my work, leaving me doubting myself. I have had a support system from day one, always encouraged; never discouraged by my father and brother to write the very best stories I could. I spent so long on an English degree to teach young people the joys that literature has brought me, wishing to write and explore writing with any future students, that I did not focus on anything else all through high school and into college. Only in the past three years (it took me a while to attain my degree, but that's another story) did I begin to question my choice, because I was not writing as much as I would have liked. During lectures, most days I could not even focus on whatever the professor was saying, because my lack of taking pen to paper on behalf of my characters did not stop them from carrying conversations while I am trying to learn logarithms and percents (math is NOT my strong suit AT ALL, give me a passionate, gritty, gripping British novel or poem instead, thank you VERY much!). I quickly learned I had to write between lectures, after homework, on the way to and from campus...I could not restrict the art of writing, at least in my case, at all. I felt a little like my ultimate idol, J.K. Rowling...writing anywhere, on anything, at anytime I could. I still write by this method sometimes, because there are going to be times when the Muse--an ethereal, universal, and metaphysical being of mystery--will approach you at a time inconsiderate to what else is going on in your life. Yet what I am learning to do is to take even these moments of crazy and turn them into inspiration. Ysam51 is right, our characters will tell us when to close the story. They are ALIVE to us in ways that no one else can understand who is not a writer. Because by us giving them life, by them coming to us with their troubles and triumphs, shortcomings and salutations, they are entrusting us to get the story out there for the world to read.

    1. You're welcome, Garrett. I loved posting this one. I had to, in fact. It was so therapeutic, you know? Being able to really open myself up like this is so hard. I'm more of a private person. Swallowing my short-comings, and all that. But at some point, we all have them, don't we? It's a lesson I've had to force myself to learn....how to be more open about those times when life just isn't going my way. So posting this really helped me, too, believe it or not.

  4. You know you're done and it's time to move on (or at least take a long-ish break) because a) you're sick to death of the work, its characters, the plot, and everything about it (been there); b) you've hit such a roadblock that you know if you just start writing something else, or read something, it'll even out (been there); c) you've edited it so much that it doesn't come close to resembling the thing it once was--in a bad way (yup, been there); d) you simply decide that it sucks and it's better if you just put it out of its own misery (I haven't been there; Stephen King says he's often been there); e) you've sent it to over 30 markets and it hasn't sold (nope, not yet, and 30's arbitrary); f) the deadline has come--and gone (been there, in my freelance reporting days); and, finally, g) because it's sold! Yay!!! (Been there 3 times.)

    1. Oh god, I think I've been through all of that...well, except the "sold" part. Still working on that one, and honestly, I won't stop until I get there.