Finisher’s Momentum

March 24, 2010

For me, there are two places in the writing of a novel where I feel true momentum. The first one is at the beginning–when the idea is still shiny and new, and every trip back to the story is a new adventure, and I feel absolutely certain that this will be the most brilliant piece I’ve ever written. It’s like being in love, and I am blind to the story’s faults or the frustrations that are sure to crop up, should this relationship continue (luckily, I have a writers’ group to bring me gently back to reality during this phase).

I muddle through the middle, with moments of brilliance and moments of agony. But the second real burst of momentum comes right near the end — when the end is not only within sight, but within reach, and when I know that every word I write tumbles me closer to those magical, invisible words (because no one really writes The End at the end of their work anymore). But usually before I get to that point, I have to make a slow, arduous, journey up a mountain of doubts, where I curse the day this story idea occurred to me with each fresh blister on my heels and palms. All along, I’m grumbling, “All this work had better be worth it. That view from the top had better be spectacular.”

And then I start imagining all the possible vistas I will encounter when I arrive at the top. Somehow, none of them seem beautiful enough to make all the work worth it. At this point, I usually stop and rest for a while, convinced that I can’t make it those final few steps to the top.

But then, one day, I get tired of resting. And I start moving again.

That’s when I somehow end up at the top without even trying. And although the view isn’t always beautiful, there is that wonderful moment when, at the very least, it’s clear.

About a week and a half ago, I found myself making notes at the end of my writing session about how the next few scenes would play out. I kept adding one more idea, then another. Soon, my notes became a step-by-step, sentence-by-sentence map to the end. All that was left was to follow that map. And guess what? It’s all downhill.


Let’s pretend that never happened

December 2, 2008

I admit, I feel a little embarrassed to show my face here again after my unplanned and unexpected Thanksgiving absence. I can most certainly give very good excuses, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wish I would have found a way to write here, anyway. When I was a kid playing dolls with my sister, when one of them did or said something really stupid, we could invoke the magic words: “Let’s pretend that never happened.” The doll got to preserve his dignity, as if making a fool of himself were just a bad dream. In real life, this doesn’t work quite as well. Denial, as useful as it is, is at best a temporary state.

The good news is that you CAN invoke the all-powerful “it never happened,” when you write fiction. You can wipe the slate clean or even just tidy it up around the edges. As I was entering the last week of my NaNo, I became aware of what the ending should be, and I was giddy with its discovery. The problem was, there were some details in the beginning of the story that would make the ending come across as a little less believable. I tried and tried to attach that ending to what I had like trying to jam pieces together from two different puzzles. And then, eureka! I realized all I had to do was make minor adjustments to the beginning, and the ending would fall into place. And since endings are the hardest part for me (I feel a little jealous of writers who see the ending with perfect clarity before they begin), making some changes to the beginning seemed a small, not to mention obvious, price to pay.

I think that as writers, we often think that, as soon as we’ve put it on paper (or screen), we’ve written it in stone. We’ve sealed our characters’ fate. But we haven’t. We get to change our minds in writing in a way we can’t in our own life. We get to pretend it never happened — and by our very pretending (and judicious use of the “backspace” bar) — we can make it so. What a wonderful world.