Monday, May 19, 2008

Shouldn't It Be Easier Than This?

I can't write simple, uncomplicated novels. I've tried. I always start out with a relatively simple concept, or so I think. But it invariably turns complicated. My husband says it's because I overthink things. He could be right. I do tend to over-analyze a lot.

My current work-in-progress has been a challenge. I've enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, but man, there are days - like yesterday - when I wanted to shove every last page into the shredder and never look at it again. The last chapter I wrote felt like the old saying by Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith: "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." Every word felt forced. Fortunately, for me, that is a red flag that something is wrong. Either I'm not writing in the correct POV, or the scene shouldn't take place at all, or there's something wrong with my plot.

This time, it was my plot. So what did I do all weekend? I worked on getting that plot point figured out. I used the "notecard" method this time, and wrote down all my plot points on each card. Miraculously, it helped me to "see" my story and where I needed to go with it. And thank goodness - I figured things out. Again.

Writing is hard. We know this. And for some reason, with every word we write, we expect that it's going to get easier. This is my third novel. And it's not any easier at all.

Oh, I've learned quite a bit in writing the other two, learned things I shouldn't do again, but I'm also realizing that every single novel is different. The plot of my last novel came to me quite easily - but there were other aspects of it that I wrestled with over and over again. My current novel is giving me fits with the plot - but other parts are easier.

So in answer to my question, "Shouldn't it be easier than this?" I suppose the answer is, "No, it shouldn't." Why? Because anything worth doing, and worth doing well, involves lots of hard work. And let's face it - whether you are willing to do that hard work is what will separate you from the rest of the pack.


  1. But the key is that you keep trying and keep going back to it. That is what matters the most.

  2. No it is not supposed to be easy. When it does, it probably isn't that good, right?

  3. Brian - despite my wishes sometimes to the contrary, I do always go back to it. *grin*

    Ell - You're absolutely right. :-)

  4. I'd be worried if it was too easy. But at times I also wish it didn't have to be so darned hard!

    Glad you figured out your plot problems - maybe I'll try the notecards method too :)

  5. Maybe the key is to accept that it will never be easy. Easier said than done, but there is a certain peace that comes with acceptance and having the expectation that for your work to be good and for you to tell the best story you possibly can, it will involve opening that vein every time. That makes the "good" writing days that much more blissful. :)

  6. Absolutely. And the sign of a good writer, in my opinion, is someone who is willing to reinvent the wheel as needed for each novel, instead of saying "This is MY process" and trying to force everything to fit.

    Do you take the note cards, spread them out and rearrange them?

  7. Every story is different, right?

    And you're growing with each story you write, which sometimes means one aspect becomes less complicated or easier for you. But if one thing is easy then immediately you focus on something else that gives you fits.

    I am learning all the time. I find the greatest moments of 'aha' in the rewriting. Phew.

    Congrats on the domain... and love the different writers' offices :)

  8. Tess - I've resisted the notecards method for a long time, but it did help me to figure things out. Give it a try!

    Devon - I haven't rearranged the notecards or anything yet because I've been busy researching, but I think it could definitely be a possibility. :-)

    Toni - Thank heavens for rewriting! And I think you're right about growing with each story you write - I know I certainly have. :-)

  9. Lisa - you always have such wise advice. I think it would indeed be a good thing to just accept that it's going to be hard. :-)

  10. Melissa, this post hits it right on the head. Every time I start a new novel (except for the first one, because of course I didn't know any better, then!) I find myself having to gather my energy--like taking a deep breath before diving--because I know, now, what a long hard haul it is. And you're right, every novel has different problems and a different learning curve.

    I've used the notecard method myself, when I get far enough along in a draft that I can't keep track of all the balls in the air. It really helps. A friend of mine uses a 8' length of butcher paper, but I prefer the cards because I can shift them around.

    Kudos on figuring out the plot problem! Keep on truckin'...

  11. Christine - I was thinking last night that I need to try the butcher paper thing myself - just put a really long length on my basement walls and go to it. I think that might work the best for me.

    I hear ya on gathering the energy - it feels so overwhelming at times.

  12. Oh, boy, do I ever identify! Hang in there, Melissa, and congrats on figuring out the problem.

  13. Thanks, Therese! I feel much better about it today. What a difference a few days can make!


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