Commitments

 

photo by Jeff Belmonte licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

There was a line in a recent episode of the tv show Castle, a line where Richard Castle (the mystery-novelist main character, played by Nathan Fillion) says of the book he has not yet begun to write:  “I already have the story.  That’s the hardest part.” *

Now, first of all, on the (extremely) unlikely chance that the show’s producer Andrew Marlow or anyone else associated with Castle production is reading this, let me say that: a) this is a totally minor quibble that in no way impacts how much I love the show; b) it’s not just Castle; this is probably the most common writing misconception out there, which is why I felt it was worth talking about today; and c)  if I were to write a book about, say, a crime TV-show writer/producer, I am sure that anyone who knows that world would laugh themselves sick over all the details I would inevitably get wrong.  So, this is all in good fun and we’re still friends, okay?

However:  getting an idea–or even a whole plot outline–for your story is NOT the hardest part of writing a novel. 

As a general rule, I’m not all that fond of book/baby metaphors; the comparison for me breaks down because we do not (I hope) sell our children in the way we work to sell our stories if we want them to find readers out there in the world.  And if you truly love your books as you would your children, you’re more or less guaranteeing yourself some hugely crappy emotional times when the inevitable rejections, bad reviews, etc. roll in.  That said, saying that coming up with an idea or a plot outline for a story is the hardest part of the writing process?  For me, that’s a little like saying that jumping into bed with your significant other and conceiving a child is the hardest part of parenting.  Huge step, sure, but coming up with new story ideas is pretty much the fun part, and as easy as this whole crazy writing gig ever gets.

All the authors I’ve ever known, myself included, have so many ideas for new stories bouncing around in their heads and clamoring for attention that it’s positively irritating at times.  The hard part is selecting just one of those bright, shiny new ideas, and sitting down with it, day after day.  Typing until you reach your daily word count goal again and again and again–hundreds of times until finally you have the story all written from beginning to end.

And the hardest part?  The hardest part is to keep right on sitting down at the keyboard, even when you are at, say, 60,000 words, and the idea is no longer bright and shiny in the slightest.  In fact, you suspect that 59,999 of those words are complete and utter garbage.  Well, maybe only 59,998; you’re pretty sure that that ‘Chapter 1’ on the top of your first page is solid.  Assuming that the numeral 1 can in fact be counted as a word.  And come to think of it, debating that point sounds like a lot more fun than actually slogging away with work on your book.

That is when writing a novel gets truly  hard.  But it’s also perhaps the most crucial part of the process–because the way you respond as a writer is the most important choice you’ll make in your entire writing career.

Recently (by my friend’s request!  I swear!) I was writing out my top-10 list of things I wish I had known about motherhood for a friend who’s expecting her first child.  And I found myself writing:

 

#3– Your kids will need you.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I don’t think anything prepares you for what it feels like to be the object of that kind of 24 hour-a-day dependence.  Whether you are sick, sad, discouraged, overwhelmed, or so exhausted that you’re hallucinating Wile E Coyote and Roadrunner meep-meeping their way across your kitchen–none of it makes even a single iota of difference in the degree to which your kids need you to be their mom.  Sometimes this truly is a gift in terms of allowing you to grab some perspective, laugh, count your blessings, and get over yourself.  And sometimes, to be honest, it really just kind of sucks.  And I’m not suggesting that you don’t have your own life and your own goals and that you never ever take care of yourself; of course you do, you have to, or you won’t be able to function as a human, much less a mom.  But I also think that the best advice I can offer is that at some point you learn to turn that dependence, that constant need of you as a mother, into the true north on your compass, your emotional northern star.

 

To shamelessly violate my own book/baby comparison ban once again,  I realized as I was typing that the same words can in some measure be applied to our roles as authors.

Our stories are completely dependent on us to tell them.  Sick, sad, discouraged or overwhelmed–your story is still never going to be written unless you sit down and write it, and I think every writer out there would say that that relationship feels awesome at times, and completely sucky at others.  However, the crucial difference is that unlike children, who are notoriously skilled at bringing their needs to our attention, a novel is all too easy to ignore or put off for any one of the multitude of excuses our brains can find not to write.  We’re stressed, we’re tired, we’re too discouraged by that recent rejection . . . we have to exercise instead,  we have 6 billion loads of laundry waiting to be done . . . the list goes on.

But the hardest reason of all not to write is the feeling that we’ve lost faith in our stories or in ourselves and our own abilities to tell them.  And that is the true turning point, the most important choice you’ll face in your writing life: when you reach that crisis-point, do you abandon your unfinished story in favor of another shiny-new idea?  Or do you keep plugging away, even when everything right down to the basic premise of your book seems flawed, and you’re certain it will never be worthy of being read by any eyes but yours?

Anyone who reads the title of this post will guess that I’m of the ‘keep plugging away’ school of thought.  Some may disagree, and I’m not at all saying that this is the only way of being a writer; only that it’s the only way that I know how to be a writer: when the hard times come, you keep writing, keep working on your story until you type ‘the end’.  And I know, too, that it’s hard advice to hear and even hard advice to give.  Because unfortunately, I can’t promise that just because you don’t give up on a story until it’s finished and you’ve even revised it half a dozen times–I can’t promise that means it will achieve you Richard Castle-like (sorry, couldn’t resist) success.  I can’t promise you’ll be published or find an agent or any of those other concrete career goals.  Some stories really are inherently flawed, and will be no matter how many times they’re revised.

But what I can promise is that the process of continuing to write through the hard times, pushing through to the end of the book and on into the revisions phase, that will improve your writing craft in countless invaluable ways.  Ways that will help you get published some day, if not with this story, then with another.

I’m writing this post now, because this is the month of NaNoWriMo, which encourages thousands of writers, newbie and professional alike, to take on the challenge of writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month.  Which is awesome.  There’s also always some NaNo controversy around this time, but I personally think that anything that gets thousands and thousands of people excited about books and writing is fantastic.  I think the hardest part for many, though, is not writing those 50K words in November–it’s when Dec. 1 rolls around and they have to sit back and take stock of what they’ve written, decide whether they want to keep on working on their stories.

Some genuinely may not, some just do NaNo as a lark, and may not want to seriously pursue publication or a writing career.  And that is totally okay; no shame, no blame.  Just because writing happens to be a career for many is no reason it can’t be a perfectly great hobby for others.

But for those aspiring writers who do dream of publication, this post is really for them.  It’s for them that I bring up the ‘getting an idea for your novel is the hardest part’ myth–because when you’re stuck and struggling, buying into that myth can make you think that there must be something wrong with you, that maybe you were never meant to be a writer at all.  But as Junot Diaz once said, “You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”

Even when you’re struggling–or rather, especially when you’re struggling–commit to your story, hold on, and don’t lose heart.  You are a writer, with a unique voice and a unique story to tell.  And if you give up, your story will never, ever get the chance to live and breathe.  It is your story; you are the only person on the planet who can tell it in the way it needs to be told and bring it to life.  When the hard times come–and they will come–make that the northern star that guides you towards the amazing moment when you type ‘the end’.

 

*What’s that you say?  You were too distracted by (finally!) getting to see Castle and his love interest Kate Beckett in bed together to notice this?  Yeah, kind of amazing that I noticed it myself, really.

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About Anna Elliott

Anna Elliott is an author of historical fiction and fantasy. Her first series, the Twilight of Avalon trilogy, is a retelling of the Trystan and Isolde legend. She wrote her second series, the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles, chiefly to satisfy her own curiosity about what might have happened to Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and all the other wonderful cast of characters after the official end of Jane Austen's classic work. She enjoys stories about strong women, and loves exploring the multitude of ways women can find their unique strengths. Anna lives in the Washington DC area with her husband and three children.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve watched every episode of Castle, but somehow I missed that line. How I wish he spoke the truth. Then I would have a dozen books out already!

    What’s really bizarre is that the script didn’t pop into existence from nothing; it was written by writers. Maybe writing serials for TV is a completely different ball game from writing novels. I suppose coming up with new, witty and thrilling mysteries every week takes its toll.

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    • says

      Yes, I had that exact same thought–I’ve never tried script-writing, but it must be WAY different from novel-writing if the episode writer could put that line in.

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  2. says

    Oh Anna, I’m both laughing and crying at this post. There is always a point when I lose faith in a book, and I have to tell myself that its ONLY a book, not the cure for cancer or the answer to world peace.

    And I just turned in a manuscript yesterday :)

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    • says

      Huge congrats, Barbara!!! And yes, I’m exactly the same–some of my books have come to me more easily than others, but at the same rate, even the ‘easy’ ones have always hit the crisis point where it’s not working and I don’t know why and it would be easier to give up. It’s just part of the process, every . . . single . . . time. :)

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  3. says

    Anna, this is wonderful and just what I needed today. My last column in the last WU newsletter (You Couldn’t Have Told Me) addresses Castle’s widely-held misconception as well. I have had plenty of moments when I had to decide whether to slog on or turn to shiny idea #2. I love the Diaz quote. Makes me feel like a real writer.

    Thanks for the wonderful lift today! (And congrats to Barbara, above.)

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    • says

      Aw, thanks, so happy you felt that connection, that’s exactly what I was hoping for with this post, that people would identify & know they’re not alone. Good luck with the plugging, I’m rooting for you!!

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  4. says

    I remember that line, though at the time it did kind of fly by me (yeah, I probably was distracted by Castle and Beckett getting together at last).

    Anyway, *thank you* for this post. I had a bright, shiny new idea pop into my head on October 28–right before NaNo. But I’m committed to revisions on another project, and knowing my own history of chasing after the bright and shiny rather than buckling down and slogging when I need to buckle and slog, I decided to put NaNo, and that shiny idea, on hold.

    Yeah, ideas come easy. Ideas for revisions also come (relatively) easy. Actual words on the page? Not so much. Thanks again for the encouragement to keep on!

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  5. says

    I’m a closet Castle fan and now I’m and out-of-the-closet Anna Elliott fan. A wonderful point well presented. Now, if their Lieutenant could just soften up…

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  6. says

    A lot of this post resonated with me. That is part of the problem I have with NaNoWriMo. It teaches new writer’s bad habits. To me it’s like a fad diet, where you’re all in for 30 days and that is supposed to change something. But after the 30 days the processes and procedures you’ve created aren’t sustainable. Just like eating only bacon and grapefruit for a month, you’re sick of it. To be a writer you have to show up everyday AND do life too. That’s the only way I’ve found that works. Thanks for the post.

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    • says

      I do agree–writing a novel is about the marathon, not the sprint. I think the writers who use NaNo most successfully know that, too, and just use November as a jumping off point for working on their novel for the rest of the year.

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  7. says

    I never miss an eppy of Castle. The goofiness just kills me!

    Loved your article! Slogging over a piece for 60K words and then realizing it didn’t have the shine you first thought is when you seriously take a second look at your actual kids to trade in the black market. It helps if you start with a dozen children or so…

    Great piece, Anna.

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  8. says

    Wow! I can’t believe I missed that line. I love the show – Castle. The hardest part is definitely sitting down and writing each and every day. I get so easily distracted but I am getting better at sitting and writing. I joined the NaNoWriMo group and I am so glad I did. The support and encouragement from other writers is fabulous.

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    • says

      Sylvia, the fact that I noticed that line myself may or may not be because I felt obliged as a Castle fan to go back and watch that bedroom scene again after my first viewing . :) Sitting down and writing really is just like any other practiced skill–it gets easier with time. Awesome that you’ve joined NaNo and are feeling good about it!

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  9. Carmel says

    The first time I went to a state-wide book fair where authors sold and signed their books, and even chatted with us lowly readers, I came home amazed that writers were people — no different than me! Even after that realization, I still thought they had some magic power that transformed words into books. Finally, being on WU has shown me that writing doesn’t come easy to anyone, all writers thing their work is *&$%@ at some point, and that the only thing that makes a writer a writer is that he/she keeps plugging away.

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    • says

      Carmel, that’s it exactly! I think we all start out with that conception of writers–like we expect them to wear superhero capes or something. But that’s because we only see the finished product, not all the struggles that went on behind the scenes. We all fall down and get up again and keep plugging away.

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  10. says

    Wow. I may end up the lone dissenting voice here. I happen to think Castle, or more correctly the screenwriters, got it right with that line. All parts of writing are difficult but the story to me is the heart of the endeavor and thus the most critical and, by extension, the most difficult to get right. I also don’t care much for the baby birthing analogy even here. I think it more like an operation. If the patient’s heart — the story — isn’t beating there’s no point in starting. Keeping it beating throughout the surgery is the next challenge. But without a strong story or viable heart why start? I see too many masterfully worded books fail for want of a strong story while passable word play with a strong story sells millions. No. The story — a truly strong story — is the hardest. The rest is comparatively easy. But such a dissenting view just way reflect the different approaches writers take to their craft.

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    • says

      Jack, I truly believe that there are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists out there. And if finding the story is the hardest part for you, then I kind of hate you. Kidding! Kidding! I think actually we may not disagree so fundamentally, really–for me, it’s just that to find the true beating heart of my story, as you put it, I need to sit down with it every day and struggle with it, write my way into seeing what the story really needs to be. Because what I initially think is the heart often turns out to be not–or at least not entirely so. Thanks for livening up the discussion with a different viewpoint!

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    • says

      Thanks, Rhiann! That’s what I really wanted to convey with this post–if you’re having a crisis of faith, you are definitely not the first writer to have one and definitely won’t be the last. We all go through the hard times.

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  11. says

    Anna, great post. And perfect timing, “commitment” with my new novel being advertised on WU!
    I’m at that middle humdrum part of NaNo where I haven’t had any substantial word count this week, but hope to catch up this weekend. I love the challenge of a fast first draft and I totally agree, the story is NOT the hard part. It’s the sitting and writing it.

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  12. Denise Willson says

    You’re on the money with this one, Anna.

    There’s a saying in my house, “If I don’t succeed (fill in: publish this book, etc) it won’t be from a lack of effort.” Sure, there are many things in this life we cannot control. But we do have power over our actions, and even our thoughts. Harness’em and run with it.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

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  13. says

    Anna-

    Great post but, you know, I disagree. The hardest part is not to keep plugging…

    …the hardest part comes when you’ve already been plugging for what seems forever. You’re sick of the process. You’re tired of talking about it. You’re done. Ready to move on. The ms feels good. Others agree. And still the response from the industry is tepid: polite interest, “rave” rejections, and other varieties of indifference.

    It’s the time when you want to blame your agent, the “market”, or believe that the things that make your book special are the very things keeping it from selling. It’s tempting to be bitter. Yet you know there’s something you don’t know. In your deepest heart you know something’s missing.

    *That’s* when true commitment happens. True commitment is not just loving your kid but being honest with yourself. You’re not a perfect parent. You have more to learn. There’s a better way to do things and a higher set of values to which to rise.

    The hardest part, I think, is having faith when you’re completely out of energy, patience and inspiration. It’s the faith that you’re a storyteller. The story you have to tell is important, even if its form is imperfect. It’s faith not in your process, that you can “get there”, or that doggest persistence will be rewarded.

    The hardest part is having faith in yourself: that your story matters, you can perfect it, you can dig deeper, you can do more, you can not just make it good but completely fulfill its potential and high purpose in this world.

    The hardest part is to empower yourself when you feel powerless, to know that you matter even when you feel you don’t, to set aside bitterness and blame and instead embrace the joy of ever deeper mastery.

    You’ll know you’ve done the hardest part not when you find acceptance from others but acceptance of yourself. When you do it won’t matter how long it takes. The reward will be in the writing itself.

    Well okay, I guess I do agree: the Castle script got it wrong. But then, they’re not going to spend an hour on him sitting in front of the keyboard, right? TV wants to people to believe that story is some kind of magic. We know better. Ideas are easy. The real magic comes later.

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    • says

      Wow, Donald, so much to think about and digest, here. I don’t want to misinterpret or put words in your mouth, but I think we may simply be talking about different stages–I was highlighting what (for me) is the hardest part of writing a single novel, and I think you’re (incredibly eloquently) summing up the crisis point in a writer’s broader aspirations and career. For some, that point may come before they publish a single book, for others after they’ve published 10 or more. Having been there myself, I absolutely love and agree with what you say about needing to “set aside bitterness and blame and instead embrace the joy of ever deeper mastery” and “the reward will be in the writing itself.” So true. We always have more to learn as writers, ways we can dig deeper and find new methods to improve our craft–that’s one of the true joys of the job, even (or rather especially) when the crisis points come.

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      • says

        Hey Anna,

        That crisis point (great way to put it) can come during the long process of writing a debut novel, or ten books into a career. Any stage, really. But for most it comes at some point.

        And of course I don’t really disagree with anything in your excellent post! Just using a rhetorical device. I’ve been serving as an expert witness in a publishing case in federal court. Such fun, but being around lawyers makes one want to argue.

        This was a cool post for NaNoWriMo month. I loved what you said about December 1st. Ha! But you’re also blazingly right when you say, “And if you give up, your story will never, ever get the chance to live and breathe.”

        I guess encouragement is needed all the way, every stage. Except maybe if you play a writer on TV.

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        • says

          My vote is with Anna on this. As an organic writer, I don’t actually know the story at the beginning, so I could never say that that part’s over because I write to discover the story. And keeping at that discovery process, backing out of the blind alleys, peering into what might happen, all of those things are what are difficult–and wonderful. The child-birthing notion is also true for me. Every pregnancy has ups and downs and sideways, is organic and develops the way it wants to, not the way the mother does.

          And I have to add that I’ve not yet suffered from not having faith in myself and my storytelling abilities as Donald suggests is the hardest part. In fact, it’s that continuing belief, whether founded in reality or not, that keeps the wheels turning, and turning, and turning, and . . .

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          • says

            Ray-

            Wow, may you never, ever have a crisis of confidence!

            And what you say as an organic writer is so interesting…it’s a discovery process, but then there must come a time of shaping and revision, yeah? Do you ever feel discouraged during that phase?

            Also, I’ve heard some organic writers describe the whole process, beginning to end as terrifying, a high wire act. Each new book feels like a first book. It seems the magic will never work again. Do you find that true, as well?

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            • says

              Should have checked back earlier, so I missed this. Yes, each book is a brand new adventure, but, as long as I’m not writing it publicly, there’s no terror of a high wire act. I relish the revision process, and often have used valuable input from critique partners do do extensive rewrites that improved the work. And I’ve always felt that the magic will continue–after all, nothing has happened to diminish what I can do with my imagination and words.

              And if I fail? No loss, it’s a learning experience that will contribute to making the next project a success.

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        • says

          Thank, Don! And hey, I like a good debate, myself. :)
          Your books on craft are truly some of my longtime standbys when facing all crisis points, micro or macro.

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  14. says

    Thanks, Anna.

    I found, like many of our friends above, this post to be very helpful at such a hard time. I am between novels and have been stressed out about “what to write next”, pressuring myself to try something new, telling myself that I “should” work on that one story I’ve been ignoring for the last year… even though my heart is set on writing the sequel to the novel I’ve just finished. Long story short, my heart is in the novel, and the novel is what keeps me going from day to day in my writing life. I shouldn’t feel guilty about that, or worry that the story is too silly to write. I’m already committed to it. It’s already my brain-child. I simply need to be the writer for this story, and put my brain where my heart already is.

    Does that make sense? Anyway, thanks much!

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  15. says

    “The hardest part is to keep right on sitting down at the keyboard, even when you are at, say, 60,000 words, and the idea is no longer bright and shiny in the slightest. In fact, you suspect that 59,999 of those words are complete and utter garbage.”

    Ummm… there! Right now!!! But continuing to plug. Actually, I’m looking at what seems like about 75,000 words of utter garbage, but I’ve been here a dozen times before, and I know that as my granny used to say, “This, too, shall pass.” Like a kidney stone. :) Thanks, Anna, for the pep talk.

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  16. says

    “This, too, shall pass.” Like a kidney stone. :)

    LOL is way overused, but that just completely cracked me up, Brea! Yes, it may be painful, but it DOES pass. Best of luck to you, you’ll get there!

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  17. says

    Wow – I just love your posts in general, but this one specifically. I would love to read the rest of your top 10 motherhood list. You nailed #3 beautifully. If you don’t mind, could I print it out and put it in my notebook for my current work in progress? That is exactly the character development arc that my protagonist is working on. You gave words to the concept for me, so thanks so much.

    As far as continuing on, I’m very similar to you. I see the value in finishing, no matter what. And it is super-hard sometimes to work through those low spots. Thanks for a lovely post.

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    • says

      Lara, so glad if anything I said was helpful, and of course, print away and include as you wish. I think that’s one of the most difficult–but important–arcs we face as mothers, good for you for exploring it with your protagonist, that sounds like the makings of a great story to me.

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  18. says

    Thanks, Anna. I needed this post today.

    And my youngest child is sixteen, yet I was reminded of that True North’s existence just last night. Maybe I’ll figure this out by the time I’m a grandparent. (Both the writing and the kid-raising.)

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  19. Sevigne says

    I agree with so many things Donald Maass has said in his comment. And, I am sorry to say, I disagree with both of you that coming up with the storyline is not the hardest part. To address Donald’s comment first because I believe it is *the most important* for a writer, no matter what method you use to generate a narrative:

    Having faith in oneself to tell a story, together with faith in the story itself, is paramount. Without these two things in place, nothing new will come into existence. I learned this from listening to J.K. Rowling in summer of 2011 when I was too ill to read or write. It turned my writing world around by one hundred and eighty degrees. I stopped looking outside myself for approval and began to find the one true story I could believe in, the one I had always wanted to read, the one I would stake my life on, as a writer. Self-belief is also what steers me back to the *truth of the story* when self-doubt arises. (Trust does not eliminate the arising of self-doubt, it makes it irrelevant to the creative process. And therein lies the source of true happiness regardless of the vicissitudes of life or the difficulty of the writing process. Hence, one doesn’t need to plug away. One needs to trust the creative process already within, and let go of everything else.)

    As for: coming up with the storyline is not the hardest thing…it depends on what you mean by “storyline” or “outline.” Or even “plot.” I am very much aware that I am in the minority in the way I think and work, although I appear to be in the good company of Arthur C. Clarke and other writers whose “subconscious generates the narrative.” (Jonathan Franzen is another writer who thinks about his story for several years before committing a single word of the narrative to paper. But once he knows it, he writes very quickly. This is my experience, also.) Deep story logic not something you find by “plugging away at writing.” You find it by thinking and searching and looking in places you can’t imagine beforehand. Meg Rosoff said recently in a blogpost titled, “How to Write,” writing is twenty percent or less of the actual process of creating a story. I’m in that camp, as well. (I believe the twenty percent refers to the narrative; not the preliminary work to find it.) I have over 400 pages notes—many wrong turns that eventually led to rock solid logic—that have generated a storyline I could never have figured out with my conscious mind or through attempting to write the narrative a million times in draft form. I love this story and its characters precisely because everything that came from my conscious mind has eventually been eschewed; as the true story revealed itself according to the degree of love and faith I was willing to give my subconscious. Arguably, my 400 pages and counting are in fact multiple drafts I’ve been plugging away at for over a year. But I do not confuse this kind of preliminary work with an actual draft. I know it for what it is: food for my subconscious to generative the narrative when it believes I’m ready to tell the best story I can.

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    • says

      Sevigne, thanks for sharing your insights! I’m not saying that all writing feels like drudgery or plugging away–or that all of the best insights come from those moments. And as I said, this is only my own method of writing; there are many. But I think many (not all, but many) would say that there are moments when you feel like you’re simply plugging away, and that you have to write through those times to the stages when the words flow easily again.

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      • Sevigne says

        Hi Anne,

        Thanks for your response. I was referring to this:

        Getting an idea–or even a whole plot outline–for your story is NOT the hardest part of writing a novel.

        For me, this *is* the hardest part of writing a novel. A great deal of thinking and figuring takes place before any writing (narrative) begins. it requires inordinate patience. The narrative is easy, once the subconscious gives me the green light to go. When it’s ready, the subconscious gives me everything, from beginning to end, including the structure. Getting to that point of readiness, however…that’s the hard part. It means following the characters to the very end, until I grok their logic, and not losing faith along the way that I will in fact find it. (Perhaps we’re saying the same thing but coming at it from opposite ends.)

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  20. Ray Pace says

    I’m currently doing nanowrimo and finding it to be of immense value. Having been a 10k runner and knowing what that feels like, I find similarities in doing the nano 50 thou in 30 days. In both cases there’s a bit of zen at work – you’ve gone the distance, checked your time and at the finish you have your stats and the fact that you’ve finished as promised. Beyond those stats, beyond the finish line is where you meet up with yourself again. Could you have done better with it? Where will you improve on what you’ve just done? What insights came to the forefront during your charge to the finish? Just as one can’t step into the same river twice, going back into the 50 thou plus words becomes a different river – one with new insights to reveal. Call it editing, if you will.

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  21. says

    Thanks for the excellent post Anna. It’s just what I needed to hear. I’m trying to re-shape my writing process and this is exactly the kind of encouragement I need to not throw my hands up. I guess I’m saying misery loves company ;-) but especially if company is going to bring treats, like good advice on not giving up.

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  22. says

    So enjoyed reading this post. So many of the things you said struck a chord in me, from the attention family needs (Meep! Meep!) to the ‘hard’ parts of writing, to your generous encouragement.

    “Even when you’re struggling–or rather, especially when you’re struggling–commit to your story, hold on, and don’t lose heart.”

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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  23. says

    Oh, I’m pretty sure that the line wasn’t intended as anything other than something that the screenwriter knew the audience wanted to believe. After all, most people think that writing is all about “the idea.” I can’t count the number of people who get all excited about having come up with an “awesome idea that is going to make a lot of money and would you be interested in writing it for me and then we’ll split the money?” You see, non-writers assume that the idea is really where the magic comes in. On the other hand, writers know the true enchantment takes place when the writer is actually able to sit down and do battle with the idea and get it down on paper — from beginning to end.

    Loved the post. It was terrific.

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    • says

      It really is one of the most widely-held writing misconceptions out there. And I don’t mean to pick on Castle; as Donald said above, it would be a pretty boring show if all we got was him sitting at the keyboard for an hour wrestling with his story. I love what you say, Richard, about “writers know the true enchantment takes place when the writer is actually able to sit down and do battle with the idea and get it down on paper — from beginning to end.” So well put and so true!

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  24. says

    Having just hit that magic 50,000 mark on my NaNoWriMo book, I am right there with you. I thought the book might have a certain spark at about 15,000 words, by 35,000, it seemed to be flowing well, but here at 50,000, I’m pretty sure it is the worst book every inflicted on a word processing program. That said, I’m going to wake up tomorrow and start on the next 1000 words in faith and hope that I can somehow take the story that was in my head and translate it to the page.

    I always love your posts, Anna, and this is one of your best.

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  25. Paul Martin says

    Thank you for this post. Scott Berkun, in his book, The Myths of Innovation, talks about this in depth. OK, the book isn’t about writing but about high tech entrepreneurs and their ideas, but the point is the same. Ideas, by themselves, have almost no value. It is the execution of those ideas (in this case, the finished novel) that creates value. There has never been any substitute for hard work, the honing of ones craft, and perseverence.

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  26. says

    Commitment is vital to survival.

    It’s important to finish what you start, even if you write a temporary ending and put the manuscript away for awhile. Unfinished projects drain creative energy. Too many people start something, write a few other words, see a new idea, and it becomes, “oooh, shiny!” but nothing is finished.

    As someone who earns my living writing, I MUST put butt in chair and meet my commitments — to my contracts AND to myself. To my contracts because otherwise I’ll be homelesss and hungry. To myself, because meeting commitments is a sign of self-respect, as well as respect for those with whom I’m dealing.

    If I don’t respect my own work, I don’t give anyone else a reason to respect it, either.

    I’ve also learned (the hard way), that some of the best work comes on the days when it’s hardest to push through. it’s true — the break-down sometimes comes before the break-through.

    There are many, many talented writers out there. But the ones who will survive under the career and passion of “writer” are the ones who learn how to create and maintain a commitment.

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  27. says

    I beg to differ Anna, and do agree with the writers behind the TV series Castle who had the title character say that “knowing the story is the hardest part.”

    Your post is long enough, and while I responded this morning off the cuff without reading any other comments, I know now that others, ahead of me disagreed as well (still haven’t read what they said), I’m not going to react to each of your points, I’ll stay with what my thoughts are about the difficulty of finding story versus writing words.

    Writing 100s of thousands of words is not the problem for me and many others. Often the story doesn’t become clear until after the writer has written thousands of words. We don’t write what we know but what we want to find out.

    Idea does not equal story.

    Countless are the times that someone told me, someone I respected, someone whose opinion was of value to me even, “Now there’s a story.” And I would say, “What, where, why?” I knew I had just related an experience, performed if you will the dialogue with brie, but I knew, just that, was not enough to make a story.

    Knowing the story, and also, or even more important, why the story would be of interest to readers, and what the justification would be to try and have those words of ours published is way more difficult than going with The Flow.

    Seeing the forest for the trees is an accomplishment, so is noticing the gem among the pebbles, or better yet that one pebble among the pebbles that speaks to us; writing down the bones is far less so.

    My credo: Write on, write on writer, and the story may come to you.

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    • says

      Judith, thanks so much for commenting–but I think we’re talking a bit at cross purposes here. My key point was that Castle is talking about *a book he has not written yet*. He hasn’t yet typed one word, just has the idea for the story. You say: “Often the story doesn’t become clear until after the writer has written thousands of words. We don’t write what we know but what we want to find out. Idea does not equal story.”

      I hope it’s clear in my post that I couldn’t agree more.

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  28. says

    My Pet Peeve had been revealed: THE MYTH of getting an idea–or even a whole plot outline–for your story is the hardest part of writing a novel. Please don’t make me hear that myth again, but I am afraid I must. By every person who hears I have an idea and am writing it, by everyone who has an idea and wants me to help them write about it. By Richard Castle? well that is going way too far. He should know better. The only solace I can take is your post, the comments on your post and the simple way it is to get rid of those pesky people who “have an idea” and want to write about it, like I am doing. . . I say YES, I would LOVE to help, I give them their first writing assignment of 1000 words, or 500 if they can’t do it, or even if they still can’t then a few character studies & I schedule a phone appointment for a week later. They have a WEEK do a character study and guess what? I never hear from them again. Voila. See what I mean?

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