Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Writing is hard.

I know this shouldn't come as a revelation--I've been doing this seriously for four years. I've had my share of exhaustion and despair over editing and rewriting and plotting and the sheer labor of thinking what to do next when an editor says, "I liked it but not well enough to take it on."

But my current project is by far the hardest thing I've ever done. Does that mean I'm growing as a writer? Or that isn't the project for me and I should move on? Or that I'm merely tired from months of mono and my body and mind are using all its energy to getting better? I don't know. All I know is that some days stubbornness is all I have to call upon--"I will write one page before I fold laundry. I will write one page before I make dinner." (And you know it's got to be bad when I'm thinking of laundry and cooking as better alternatives!)

I came across a quote from Orson Scott Card's HOW TO WRITE SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY and it struck home with me: "You have to be willing to change anything during the creation phase; only that way can you make the story be true to yourself. There's nothing sacred about your original idea--it was just the starting point . . . So the story is nothing like what you first thought it would be. But so what? It's better--richer, deeper, truer--than that original idea. The idea did its work: It got you thinking."

And that, in a cliched nutshell, is the story of my new book. It started as a craft writing assignment in my online group--"Show a preternaturally gifted child." Then it became a short story that was a quarterfinalist in Writers of the Future. The story was in first-person. When I came to start the book, I picked up where I'd left off in the story and wrote it in 3rd person (being a fan of multiple viewpoints as I am.) I wrote a hundred pages like that, then went back and rewrote the story in 3rd person which turned into the first three chapters. And then I stalled. I knew the important events. I knew where the story ended--I just couldn't make myself write it. Following my friend, Ginger's, wise counsel that writer's block is just your mind's way of telling you that you're headed the wrong way, I stopped writing and started thinking. I read a lot. I fell in love with a new TV show on BBC America (Robin Hood). I let my mind wander.

And then I started over again.

I'm back in first-person. It's hard, I've never done it before for a book-length work, but it's right. I got three chapters in and stalled again. And then I realized--she was meeting her love interest too late. So I moved that forward by four chapters. And the wrong person died in the early chapters--I killed someone else. I've stuck to the single idea that has driven all of this time and effort--a 16-year-old girl in 12th century England whose ability to read minds men of two countries would kill to possess--but everything else is negotiable. I took Card's advice and let my story twist itself into its own form. And it's already a better book.

Now if I can just finish it!

As for the kindness: I've mentioned DorothyL, the listserv for mystery lovers. I've posted on there from time to time, but I finally got up the nerve last week to post some reservations I'd had about a book and author. Ian Rankin is extremely popular and his books sell extremely well, but the one I'd picked up in the middle of the series left me a bit underwhelmed. So I asked on DorothyL if I'd just picked the wrong book to start with and whether I should give him another try.

Sandra Ruttan emailed me almost at once, asking me to send her a list of my favorite authors and what I enjoy in mysteries. Then she went to a bookstore (in Canada), bought me a different Rankin to try as well as book by Mark Billingham. And she's sending them to me.

Can you believe it?! Who knew that I would find such kindness by merely asking a question.

In any case, on Sandra's blog today she talks about how to excite people into reading books. It's a wonderful piece and I'm going to challenge myself to do what she did so graciously: Next time someone asks me about a book to read, I won't just reflexively offer my personal favorites. I'll take the time to understand what they love and search out a specific book for them. For readers, there's nothing better than discovering a new author. I want to give that to my friends and family. Here's hoping you'll do the same!


Ginger said...

Great thoughts on sharing books, Laura. I am going to do exactly the same thing. That was very cool of Sandra.

As for your writing, I am glad you are sticking with it. I loved the idea from the start (as you know) and various scenes were perfection. But I have to tell you, what I'm reading now in group (sounds like we're in therapy) is worth all this work. I LOVE it.

Becca said...

I agree. Although I've loved every book you've suggested to me. (Now starting my third Sharon Kay Penman).