This past week, while on vacation, I managed to squeeze in several hours of writing time. It was wonderful. Sitting alone in the warm autumn sun on a deck in Colorado, overlooking the Continental Divide. The setting was perfect for creativity; I had several chapters of feedback from my awesome critique group. I was all set. Except, I’d left off in the middle of a new scene I was adding, a scene I was having some difficulty with.
I know what needs to happen, but this scene is heavy on the dialogue, one of those uber-important character conversations where the words need to have double- and triple-meanings and body language is nearly as important as what’s said. These are tough for me, so instead of attempting to wrangle a difficult scene while outside my normal working conditions, I decided to move ahead to the next chapter.
What a great call! In just over two hours, I cleaned up a full chapter. Roughly twenty-five pages in the can. Even better, it got my momentum moving forward. No longer am I languishing in chapter four. I’m now well into chapter six. Yeah, I know – those five pages still need to be written and polished, but there’s a mental victory that comes from taking a leap forward in the story.
I’ve always considered myself a linear writers, so this week’s surprise success got me to thinking about my process. Am I sabotaging myself by sticking to a linear path? Should I consider racing through the “easy” scenes in order to ultimately speed up the time it takes me to finish a book? Have I been going about this whole writing thing the wrong way?
This mini-soul-search led me to realize that this isn’t the first time I’ve strayed from my linear path. In fact, I often hold off on completing a book’s final chapter until after I’ve sketched out the next book in the series. There’s something paralyzing for me about committing to details that are ultimately minor in book one but key in book two or book three.
For example, in my current series, I still haven’t actually written the final chapter of book one. What’s the hold up, you ask? Well, I knew heroine number one’s BFF was going to be the heroine of book two, but at the time, I wasn’t sure whether or not hero number two needed to make a cameo appearance in the final scene. Now that I’ve finished the first draft of book two and begun noodling on the plot for book three, I realize that not only does hero number two need to pop up in book one, he needs to appear two, maybe three, times. (Spoiler alert: this is part of the re-writing that’s slowing down the edit of book one.)
It’s not only the big details I fret over. There’s a secondary character who appears in both books one and two who has a burn scar on his face. This fella is going to be the hero in book three, and any time he pops up, I get nervous about revealing specific details. What if in book one I say he’s scarred on the right side of his face, but then in his story, it becomes germane that his scars can be seen while he’s driving – which would mean his left side would need to be damaged? Or what if I make his injury so bad that it turns off readers?
These worries prove that I have some seriously anal hang-ups, but taking a closer look at these personality quirks has taught me a lesson. I use the excuse of “getting the details right” as a massive form of procrastination.
That dicey conversation scene I’ve been dancing around for over a week? Procrastination. Like I said earlier, I know what needs to be said, but every time I open my document, I decide I need to back up and remind myself what’s already been said, and by the time I’ve re-read and re-tweaked the ten to fifteen pages leading up to problem scene, my writing time is up. If I truly ever want to finish this story, I’m going to have to charge right in there and start putting words on the page. Sure, it might take three or four passes to make the scene do what I need it to do, but if I don’t ever start the first pass, I’m guaranteed to never get the job done.
What about my fear of committing to plot details? Well, I just need to get over myself, right? Mike’s face is scarred on the right side. That’s a “fact” of his life, and I have to learn to trust my creativity and believe that when it comes time to tell his story, I’ll find a way to make the details exposed in books one and two work in book three.
Really, I guess that’s the heart of the matter. I NEED TO LEARN TO TRUST MY CREATIVITY. I need to learn to believe in myself. I need to learn not to be afraid of success.
These are hard lessons and embracing change is never easy, but if I want to achieve my goals, I’m going to have to start tackling my writing differently. Like the growing pains I used to get in my legs as a child, moving from one stage to another can be painful, but it’s time for me to grow up as a writer. No more justifying my title as author on two books published a decade ago. No more spending years on the same story.
This time next year, when people ask me about my writing, I want to be able to say, “Earlier this year, I self-published a three book series, which you can buy on Amazon, and I’ve got another three book series scheduled to publish in a few months.”
This response can be a reality. But only if I learn to get out of my own way and write the damn books.
Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.