Writing Journey: Hard Work and a Little Magic

Light coming from book in woman's hands in gesture of givingLast month, I blogged about being partway through a new journey—writing to the headlights, every day. Plowing through the story, regardless of how messed up the story feels.

Just keep writing, Tammy. Don’t think, write.

Along the way, during those other hours of the day, while I shopped or did other work or chatted with my husband, I worried that there wasn’t much plot. That I didn’t have enough clues for any of the suspects. That there wasn’t much mystery to my mystery yet.

Stop it. You’ll fix it later.

Sure, some of that was my evil inner critic talking. But some of it was pure truth. Because I hadn’t figured a lot of the details out. Still, I kept plugging away, adding words each day. Telling myself to reveal something useful every day.

A clue a day keeps the doctor away?

By the time I got to the final revelation and confrontation, my manuscript felt like an unbalanced load in the clothes washer—incredibly lopsided, end-heavy. All the clues clustered in one place.

At least they’re all there now. You can fix lopsided—after you finish the draft.

That was the first piece of magic. I kept writing, kept working, and I figured out the story. That sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But a lot of the time, I figured it out in reverse. Like the convincing argument I wrote for one character not being the killer, which I later realized needed to belong to a different character entirely. Like the clue of anonymous threats against Kate, which I brainstormed as part of the plot before I ever wrote a word of the book, but then forgot to put in (or skipped because I thought they made the plot too complicated)—which I then realized at the end were crucial to Kate catching the killer. And more.

This has happened before, Tammy. Why are you so surprised?

Because before it’s always happened over months. This time, it was mere days, and I think I’d always assumed that kind of writing magic had as much to do with the number of hours something could cook in my subconscious as it did with sitting down and working it out.

Turns out, it’s all about butt in chair.

And then I was at the end. I had a final confrontation (two chapters) and the wrap up (two chapters) to write. I sat down the day I knew I’d write the final confrontation (all 3,000 words of it), without a clue as to what would happen. I knew who’d be in danger, but I didn’t know where, if there’d be a gun or a knife, or how it would resolve. But I didn’t panic, and I worked it out, in a matter of hours.

That was the other piece of magic.

I made one last push, last Saturday, to write the final 3,000 words of denouement, being methodical, working through a bulleted list of what I knew needed to be covered. And then, suddenly, I’d handled the last item. I stared at the screen and slowly typed “THE END.” Stared at the screen some more.

Still not sure the ending was the emotion I wanted…

But I walked away from the computer that day, and I’ve given myself two full days off from thinking about the book. (Much.) Instead, I’ve been trying to appreciate what I did—not for public acclaim (though the congratulations and encouragement via social media have given me warm fizzies), but because in the last two months, I’ve managed to prove to myself what other people have told me all along: you can do this. You know how. You’re a professional.

I wrote 106,000 words in 60 days. And though the story so far is lopsided and disjointed and ugly, I know I can fix it. Starting today…