As a freelance writer, I’ve written nonfiction articles for glossy magazines and a zillion websites. I can craft a 1,000-word information piece so fast it’d make your eyeballs spin like a slot machine.
You’d be so engrossed in my irrigation article, you’d dig up the azaleas to see if my guidance held water. You’d present your teenage daughter my college advice article framed and matted for her dorm wall. And ten days after digesting my office etiquette piece, your peers would stand in line to pour your coffee. People like my stuff.
So I decided to write a novel. Isn’t that the “next step” for a writer? Every American includes writing a novel on his “things to do before I die” list. Since I live with a federal agent, a mystery seemed the smart choice. I already knew a 9 mm from a .45 caliber and understood police jurisdictions and courtroom terminology. Piece of cake.
I joined a critique group and stood before the passive voice firing squads as they shot red ink at me. I composed until three in the morning. My husband forgot what I looked like. My son thought it cool that I stayed awake that long.
Finally I needed feedback. The writing gurus claim that family advice sucks buttermilk, but I had no one else to bounce it off of at eleven p.m., which was the only time my family and I were under the same roof.
Me: “”How does it read?””
Husband:””Um, it reads ok.””
Me: “”Does it sound like it flows? Enough conflict?””
Husband:””I guess so. The grammar seems good.””
Me: “”So tell me what you think.””
Son: “”Um, it reads like journalism. Not enough detail. Look at Stephen King. He does…””
Me: “”This isn’t Stephen King. This isn’t horror or sci-fi. Does it need work?””
Son: “”Yea, Mom. More depth. Like King.”
I stroked my creative muse and told her we needed to get serious – butt our heads together and tighten the story. We burned the late night oil for several nights. Soon I returned to the family den, blocked the television and held their attention hostage.
“Hit me with all you’ve got. I need to feel pain before I take the leap from struggling author. I need to pay my dues.”
Husband: “”It’s longer. “”
Me: “”Is it better?””
Husband:””I guess. It reads like a book. That’s good, right?””
Son: “”It sucks less now.””
Me: “”Is that good or bad?””
Son: “”Kinda in between.””
I nodded and pumped my arms. I was gaining ground. The study door locked, I squeezed out the adverbs and wasted dialogue tags and beat that story to within an inch of its life. My muse, bloodied and bruised, assured me I’d mastered the craft. The story ought to grip readers by the collar and suck the life out of them.
“Friggin’ A” I shouted. My family came running. “Read this!” I declared, handing each a copy.
Husband:“Damn that’s a lot of words.”
Me: “But is it better?”
Husband: “I think it flows. Isn’t that what you want me to say?”
Son: “It’s the same story, Mom.”
Me: “But is this version better than the last one?”
Son: “I can’t tell. The characters are doing the same thing.”
I slammed the door, readjusted my chair, and dove into the words. Every night, slicing and dicing, I ripped the story open and sewed it back together. I paced the floor; I recited aloud the angst of my protagonist; I turned off the light to feel the fear of the victim. My family started going to bed at eight.
Me: “Ah, there you are. Read this.”
Husband: “”Do I have to read every time you make changes?””
Husband: “” Can’t I wait for the movie version?””
Son: “”Is it going to be as long as the Dark Tower Series?””
Me: “”It’s not Stephen King, and no. I’d shoot myself.””
Son: “”He’s good, Mom. You should look at his stuff and learn something.”
Returning to my cave, I threw the manuscript to the side and decided to work on another part of the book. Maybe I needed a different perspective – a view from another angle, another character. I flipped open a new page, took three deep sighs, closed my eyes and started typing…”Chapter Two.”