Last spring I finished what seemed like the “book from hell”. Every chapter felt dredged from the depths of my creative soul. Like getting water from a well running dry, I could only scoop up a bare teaspoonful of story at a time. It got worse when two thirds of the way through I realized my plot had gotten badly off track. I had no choice but to discard over a hundred pages and completely rewrite the middle of the book.
I became demoralized and depressed. The pitiful royalty payments I was receiving from my other two books in the series intensified my doubts. I began to wonder if my struggle with this book was a sign I should quit writing. Maybe I had used up whatever creative energy I once possessed. There’s only a very small market for the genre I like to write in, so what was the point of continuing the struggle? I was getting close to retiring from my day job; maybe it was time to retire from writing as well.
Despite all my anguish over the book, when I got my first edits back, I was pleasantly surprised. The book wasn’t a disaster. The storyline made sense. The characters seemed appealing and the plot compelling. Despite my frantic scrambling to finish the book, my editor said it actually didn’t need much editing.
Of course, maybe I was too close to the story to judge it and my editor was just being nice. The real test would be what readers thought. I held my breath when the book was released last month, waiting for the dreaded reviews. Amazingly, they were generally very positive. No one hated the book, or tore it apart. One of my writer friends even said it was one of the best books I’ve written.
I was relieved, and in a strange way humbled. After all, I can’t really claim all the credit for the book turning out OK. Because whatever made it work came from a part of me that I don’t control. It’s simply…magic.
I remember the first time I experienced it. I was a couple chapters into my very first book when my characters abruptly came to life. Transformed from intellectual fabrications into independent beings. I could see them. Understand them. If I climbed into their heads, they told me who they were and why they were behaving that way. Their story unfolded and they guided me through the book.
Of course, writing isn’t like that all the time, or even most of the time. Generally, it’s just plain hard work. And lately, the magic seems to come more slowly and more haltingly. My characters spend more time in a static, frozen state. Stuck in whatever scene they were in the last time the story flowed. While my earlier stories poured out like the series on a modern streaming service, now they stop and start and jerk forward like an old 8mm film. But they still come to life. The magic still happens.
I’ve always thought the ability to tell stories, to write fiction, was a gift. And since I have been blessed with this gift, it seems wrong to stop using it.
My sense of creative destiny got further validation recently when a new series idea came to me. I was lying awake, struggling to sleep when from somewhere the three heroes of my next three books came to me. Within a short while, I knew a bit about who they were and where their stories were headed. I even got a glimpse of the women they would fall in love with. My muse or fairy godmother had visited me again and zapped me with her wand. Who am I to reject a magical spell?