Those Difficult Chapters in Life and in Novels
I am on a deadline. So what else is new? In college when I had an “end” in sight, a paper, a test, a project, I had a bad habit of waiting until the last minute, a habit I unlearned by my senior year. When I began to write I had learned my lesson. I worked hard and fast right from the beginning, usually finishing before a book was due, but almost always getting my manuscript in on time.
This deadline is a bit iffy. Too many disruptions have halted my progress, so I’m now–in my own mind if not my publisher’s–down to the wire. No River Too Wide (book three of the Goddesses Anonymous series) is due in October. I’ve decided I can’t face yet another disruption mid-books. This means we can’t close down the summer cottage and move south again until I’ve hit “send,” and the manuscript is in my editor’s capable hands.
So the ante has been raised. We get a lot of cold weather in this part of New York, and this is a summer cottage with minimal heat.
With that backdrop every day I write must be a productive day. Half a chapter at minimum, weekends included. Yet knowing this, last week I spent more time wringing my hands than I did writing my book. Because no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t write fast enough to finish my chapter. A chapter that should have taken two days took five. On one of those days I worked all day and finished one page.
You might assume this was a critical juncture in which the entire plot hung in the balance. You might assume this was an event, a scene, with lots of action, drama, angst.
You would be wrong.
This was a transitional chapter, a research-free chapter, a chapter that seems to have very little going on.
Life is like that, too, I think. We get stuck, unable to move on, unable to figure out why, unable to complete whatever mission we’ve set for ourselves. We struggle, we detour, we beat our chests and tell ourselves to get moving, yet until we figure out why that particular chapter of our lives is difficult, we just don’t move forward.
Been there, done that. You, too?
Today, looking back at the now completed chapter, I realized that this seemingly innocuous chapter had really been crucial to establish a number of points.
- Hint at a secret the readers haven’t yet learned
- Introduce a conflict between characters
- Introduce a subtle change in the major character
- Bring in a character from a former book and update her life
- Strengthen the theme of the series
- Set up a major event at the ending.
Whew. No wonder it took so long and was so hard.
And best yet? When I re-read the chapter this afternoon, something that may turn out to be incredibly powerful jumped out at me. The “secret” I’d envisioned isn’t the secret at all. The real secret is much more shattering. Yet, had I not struggled so hard over this chapter, I never would have seen it.
I could draw all kinds of comparisons to our lives, but I’ll let you draw them for yourselves. Because I think you will. Let me just say this. This week I learned that sometimes when we’re stuck we simply need to be. We need the time to keep floundering, because there’s probably more, much more going on around us than we realize, and if we move too quickly we will miss it.
All that time I sat there and tried to put words on paper, the most pivotal scene in the novel was forming. I didn’t know it. I didn’t see it. But I see it now. And somehow the struggle no longer seems like a waste of time, but a gift, after all.
If your husband was still preaching he could use what you wrote for a sermon. I think a lot of what we think are road blocks in life are actually pauses where we need to rethink things.
When I’m stuck on things it’s usually because I haven’t learned to get out of my own way. For example I’ve been worrying about our two foster grandchildren and hoping (of course) that our kids will get to adopt them. A good friend of mine said you need to “let go and let God”. It just struck a cord with me. I cannot make the judges see things my way; in fact, I am helpless to do anything except support our kids and pray.
Dig out those warm socks and sweaters and put a space heater at your feet…it will all come together when it’s ready and will be another wonderful Emilie book. I know it will!
Now I want to read No River Too Wide even more.
I am looking forward to reading this, Emilie. I’ll keep in mind (I hope) what you wrote about this. Good luck and keep warm.
First, I agree completely with what Marsha Markham said.
Usually when I’m stuck, there’s something I’m overlooking. And like you, in hindsight I see how perfectly it all worked out. I just wish I could say, “It’s all in Divine Order,” before I get frustrated, because it is.