post by Jule Selbo
I thought I was going to finish the latest book in my Dee Rommel series (8 DAYS, A Dee Rommel Mystery) last week. Last Friday.
Saturday it didn’t happen.
Or Sunday April 30. I thought for sure I’d write “the end” by the last days of April.
Now it’s Thursday, May 4. And I am still tweaking pages 163-180. I have one (maybe two) chapters to go – including parts of the hellzapopping climax. Story elements are outlined, scenes have been rolling around in my head for weeks, but something (what the heck is it?) is not letting me get there because I still have too many “FIX THIS” and “SHOULD THIS BE MOVED?” notes to myself on pages 163 to 180.
Some writer friends notice my sloping shoulders and less than cheery countenance and advise: Just write. Get it out. Move forward to the end, then you can address those “FIX THIS-es”. They advise me to avoid paralysis.
I’m not paralyzed. From 5 am to noon, I’m actually having a good time going over and over and over and over pages 163 -180. With each pass, I feel the characters deepening, the themes I’m playing around with strengthening. I notice the need to tighten the noose more, to ratchet the tension more and it’s fun trying to do that. The morning writing hours are okay. But then it gets to be noon and I see I haven’t moved onto page 181 and I feel that “you are useless” self-analysis settle in.
I really do want to move on. Sometimes I look for inspiration that will allow me to do so. I’ll look up (on Brainy Quote or somewhere) some old adage that will do two things: #1 – Remind me I’m not the first person who has ever struggled with the “get to the end” problem and #2 – Rewrite the quote, epitaph, proverb, axiom or poem so it is absolutely speaking just to me.
“Winners never quit and quitters never win.”
I’ll rewrite it:
“Writers never let words make them quitters,
and the inability to find words will never win.”
(Makes no sense, but it works for me in a pinch.)
“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.”
I’ll rewrite it:
“Never give up on writing a book that you know will work,
just because you’re tired of thinking about it.”
Today I decided to rewrite the late, great Leonard Cohen. He wrote:
I’m slowing down the tune,
I’ve never liked it fast.
Well, Leonard, I think to myself. Personally, I do like to do things quickly. We are at odds there. He also wrote:
You wanna get there soon
I wanna get there last.
Leonard, I get what you saying and it surely worked for you, but we would’ve been a mismatched pair. I like getting there “sooner”, rather than later. Patience is not one of my strongest virtues.
So, of course, I had to rewrite Cohen (shame on me):
I’m lacing up my shoes
‘Cause I do want to run
I’ll get there when I do
I’ve heard the starting gun
It’s not because I’m weak
And it’s not what lack of trying does
I’ve never liked it slow
Slow’s not in my blood
One of my good friends is a tarot card reader – she goes around the world practicing/doing her skill, hanging with other well-thought-of-readers, and is now working on her “medium” talents. It sounds a bit illusive and a lot of people don’t “believe” in channeling – but I’ve known her for years (could it be twenty years?). We met long before she explored her talents in cartomancy. She was a successful real estate developer in LA, she was a successful actor in television and movies, she started a clothing business, she raised a child, she acted on Broadway and off-Broadway in NYC and she was in a group of writers that all became my close friends. Totally grounded lady and loves to cook. But, looking back, I realized it wasn’t until she started studying the art of tarot card reading and then went to Belize to study with “a master” that she really became “happy” and pleased and committed to doing one main thing in her life. Anyway, every month or so we get together on Zoom and she reads my cards, and just the other day, I told her of my angst. She laughed, said all her clients are whining and frustrated right now – something about some planets being in retrograde and some dissolution of old patterns and constructs in the universe that are making people particularly snarky and/or unhappy.
I asked “the question” that I wanted her and the cards to focus in on – about feeling “stuck” in one section of the book and so desperately wanting to move on. She concentrated on the question and chose (at random) tarot cards from the huge deck. She studied them, did notice that the “worry” card (something with six coins) dominated, but was surrounded by “heart” cards. Basically, as she interpreted the cards, the message was to stop worrying about the structure, that the base of this particular case for my main character (Dee Rommel) lay in the heart. That Dee’s diligence and work ethic and desire to solve things fast – (and me, as writer, trying to follow that path) – was sure to stall because I wanted structure to carry me through. That I needed to go back to why this case touches Dee – and be willing to let her fail in order to grow as a person.
Okay. Everything my friend had read in the cards had been roiling in a back back back portion of my brain. And I had been pushing against it. Sometimes, being agreed with by a deck of over-sized cards with weird pictures on them (even if it was an idea that you tried to bury) can release an energy. Anyway – I felt better.
And I moved on to page 181, telling myself I didn’t have to follow the outline/denouement I had set up.
Just to conclude, I’ll share my rewrite of a poem by novelist, poet, hymn writer Henry Van Dyke.
Time is too slow for those who wait,
too swift for those who fear,
too long for those who grieve,
too short for those who rejoice,
but for those who WRITE, time is eternity.
I suppose you can spot my rewrite.
Ah. The End. Only 7 MORE DAYS.
Love this post. The End will come when you (and it) are ready.
I feel your frustration, Jule. But remember, although publishers may want us on the “book a year” track, each book has a life of its own and takes as long as it takes. It is good to spend time understanding Dee as your relationship with her grows.