Learning Tough Lessons

Learning Tough Lessons

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.

Dawn Temple

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.

4 thoughts on “Learning Tough Lessons

  1. We all put off difficult scenes that challenge us and make us sweat. I totally agree with you that sometimes we have to just write the damn scene, no matter how “bad” it might be, because we have to get something on the page to work with. I’m sweating one of those right now. But you and I both know it’s hard to fashion an elegant vase on the potting wheel without getting our hands in the clay.

    When you’re talking about trusting your creativity, you’re talking about earned trust. Has your creativity pulled you through in the past? Has it delighted you? Shown you something unexpected and true? Helped you succeed in some way? Probably. But we writers are soft-wired to not notice (or to devalue) those times we’ve actually proven ourselves, so we feel like we have to keep proving and proving and proving. We are our own toughest critics, the ones who teach us to be afraid of both failing and succeeding.

    You’re a butterfly, sweeting, not a diesel dually. Embrace the dip and sway and flutter of your process. The sun is shining and many beautiful flowers await.

    1. I like the image of me as a flittering butterfly!

      Yes, dear Sandra, my creativity has pulled me through in the past. So, too, has talking my issues out with other fabulous writers who get my insecurities and love me anyway. Talked with Terri yesterday, and not only did she help me see why the scene wasn’t working for me (Becca kept trying to stand up to Jeff, and I didn’t think she was ready for that, but if Kat was troubled by the scene that came just before? Oh, yeah. Momma-bear Becca would take on any giant in defense of her cub.), she also gave me a great real-life example and provided me with a visceral reaction for Kat that will not only get Becca’s dander up, it will also allow my readers to buy into her unexpected fieceness!

      Looking back with perfect twenty-twenty, I was trying to keep things light and happy. No-no, author girl. Light and happy can’t come till we reach our HEA. I need a giant poster that says, “MAKE BAD SHIT HAPPEN!”

  2. Damnnnn Dawwwn I felt like I was listening to one of those famous biblical parables that we’ve all heard countless times over the years, and yet somehow they always seems to resonate. Get out of your own way. Trust your creativity. Write the damn book. I always thought that one day I’d simply get past those hurdles. Now I think maybe I need reminders like your post because I will always struggle to overcome these obstacles.

    But my primary take away from this read was that in order for me not to be my own worst critic, I have to understand and accept my weaknesses and then learn how to use them to my advantage.

    Off to slay my dragons.

    1. I need a sign reminding me to make my characters miserable. You most certainly have making characters miserable down pat. What you need is a sign that says, “I’M AN AWESOME WRITER AND I CAN DO THIS!”

      Have fun slaying your dragons. Ohh, dragons. Bet you’d have a blast playing/writing with those!

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