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Just Write

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous ‘inspiration’ will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not—and the odds are against it—go to your desk no matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper; write. –J. B. Priestly

If you’re at all familiar with my writing journey (detailed several times in this blog), you know that after my first professional writers’ conference in 2001, over the course of about 20 months, I completed three manuscripts. All first drafts, all written from beginning to end with no going back for revisions when things changed mid-stream. Then, it took me two years to produce another complete manuscript.


I started focusing more on the craft of writing than on the story. I worried about what my critique partners were going to say (passive verbs, repetitive words, info-dumps) and about the feedback I’d get from my faculty mentors (using the word “as” too much, or starting too many sentences with an –ing verb form). Of course, as I was in graduate school and writing it in order to pass and graduate, I had to worry about technique as much as story. But now the hardest task of all begins . . . to see if I can stop worrying about craft and just focus on the story once again.

Back in the “good old days” before I knew much of anything about point of view, plot structure, goals-motivations-conflicts, and so on, I just wrote. I wrote because I loved it. I had a cast of characters I loved—characters I’d built off myself, my best friend, and our circle of friends from college—and I spent five or six years just writing scenes to be able to spend time with them. As I grew and developed and moved on with my life, so did they. I wrote over 200,000 words of scenes for those characters, yet never had a complete manuscript.

In 1999 when I returned to college, the first class I took was a general Creative Writing class. It was in this class that the best English professor I’ve ever had, Dr. Annie Stevens, “forced” me to write a last chapter. I’d never written a last chapter. That would be too much like saying goodbye to the “friends” who had seen me through a major depression, dropping out of school, moving to Washington DC to live with my parents, and then moving to Nashville where I knew no one. So I cheated a bit on the assignment and wrote a last chapter to Book One of this massive tome.

But those characters and their stories weren’t the only ones I worked on during that time. I had other characters running around in my head telling me their stories, wanting me to write their stories. Then, I went to the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers’ Conference in 2001. I couldn’t wait to get home and put into practice everything I’d learned, most especially from T. Davis Bunn’s continuing session to write the story from beginning to end, then set it aside for a while before coming back to it to edit.

That summer, I did my Writing Seminar elective at Trevecca and as part of it, I wrote synopses for a new series that had been percolating in my head for a while. I started writing What Matters Most. It was an exercise in learning 3rd person limited POV, conflict, main and secondary plotlines, incorporation of the spiritual element, and wrapping up all of the characters’ stories in a limited number of words (it ended up being about 120,000 words, or about 130 pages longer than a typical trade-paperback novel). I started writing it in July, and at Christmas that year, I gave to my mother and my grandmother copies of what I’d written so far—about 25 chapters. I will never forget my mother who sat there reading it that afternoon saying, “I’d better not get to the end of this notebook and find out that it isn’t finished. What motivation to keep writing!

By April 2002, I wrote the epilogue of What Matters Most. I screamed. I cried. I laughed. I jumped up and down. I wanted to call someone—but didn’t know anyone who would understand the emotion of what it felt like to write THE END. Of course, it is quite apropos that my first “baby” took nine months to write.

Almost immediately, I started writing The Best Laid Plans, the story that follows chronologically after WMM. By the time the first annual ACFW (then ACRW) conference rolled around, I was tired of it. At the conference, ideas for other stories started forming and taking shape in my head and in the notebook I carried around all weekend. But I had to finish Plans. So when I got home, I did what I could with drawing the two romances to a conclusion, and ended it in November 2002.

When I got home from Christmas with the family, I was scheduled for an MRI on my back. Even though I hadn’t done any actual writing since finishing Plans, I had done some story-writeups, coming up with a series of what I thought would be category romances, creating a secondary character in each one that would then go on to his or her own story. On December 31, 2002, while lying on the bed of the MRI machine, one of these stories burst into full flower in my head and I spent that twenty or thirty minutes creating the characters and story in my head.

As I completed my second to last semester of undergrad work, I wrote Love Remains—my tribute to my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. Started it in January, finished it at the beginning of May, right after my last final exam. Although shorter than the first two, at only around 75,000 words, it, too, was a writing exercise of writing when under severe time pressures as well as just focusing on two characters and their story.

Since that time—May 2003—I have completed ONE novel. Granted, it is the most polished, professional novel I’ve written. I have completed three revisions of it, and have notes for a fourth revision. It also secured me a Master of Arts degree.

In May 2005, I submitted for school workshop the first chapter of a new historical idea I was working on. By August 2006, I have written a bunch of chapters for it (while also completing and revising Happy Endings), and yet after a year of writing have very little progress to show for a year’s worth of work.

But I am determined to WRITE. Just to write. Not to edit, not to rewrite. I am determined to get this manuscript finished before doing any more rewrites. If I repeat words or use passive verbs too much, too bad. I’ll fix it later. What is most important now is just to get the story written. Having gone through the revision process—extensively—I know most of what I’m worried about not getting right now can be fixed later. What is harder to fix is not having a completed story.

So, I am now stating publicly my goal: I would like to finish the first draft of my historical novel, Ransome’s Honor by Christmas 2006. I would also like to have at least the first third of the follow-up novel of my contemporary, Maid of Honor, written. Can I do it? Sure, if I commit myself to writing every day. Just writing. Not worrying about anything else, just writing.

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