The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend. ~Isaac Bashevis Singer
By: Stacey Purcell
My apologies to all of our readers- This article was to be published while I was attending the RWA National Conference in New York. I discovered free internet wasn’t offered anywhere in the hotel! I’m far too cheap to pay so poor William has had to wait an extra week for his article. Without further ado, I give you William Simon who writes under Will Graham.
One of the most frustrating things about writing is facing the fact the project you believe in, the project you’re over the moon about, the one you just know is going to blow the socks off everyone who reads it…. just…. isn’t….working….
Short version: Many years ago, I wrote a spec script for a TV series. It was a piece I was particularly proud of, but could not get in the front door. Or the back door. Or any door. A few years later, it was heavily revised and submitted to another series, with slightly better results. Ultimately rejected, the feedback and comments were invaluable, and it remains the nicest most constructive rejection I’ve ever received.
Last year, I heard about a new anthology looking for mysteries with a Christmas theme. Kicking around some ideas, the brain flash came; this could easily be adapted into a novella set on Christmas Eve. The starters gun went off in my brain, and we were off to the races.
After six weeks of intense daily work, changing this and editing that, revising here, creating there, it hit me like a ton of bricks I’d left out a third character who, while on the fringes of the action, plays a very important part in the last third of the story. Without this character, the heroes cannot do what they need to do to uncover the mystery.
I spent one entire day trying to re-work, re-write, streamline, edit, and make this happen. The frustration level was mounting, so I stepped back for the night and thought it through. Spent the evening with the Macbook Air in my lap, working Scrivener to death, arranging and re-arranging, making notes, revising dialogue.
One day, I realized it just wasn’t going to work.
Not in this incarnation. The final nail that sealed its doom is that the Big Mystery, the Solution, the ‘snap’ in the tale, the Lost Ark, the MacGuffin, the Major Shock…. well, it was horrifying ten years ago, but today wouldn’t get more than a ‘ho-hum, this old chestnut again?’
Okay. There is no shame in graceful surrender. Not everything works the way we plan it. Sent a private email venting to certain people, all of whom came back with “Don’t throw it away!” and some terrific words of encouragement (this is why we have friends, and if they are writers too, they understand the frustration of it all.) This one isn’t working, archive it, move on, think of something else.
About two weeks after I’d surrendered on this one, Jenn (aka J-Bray, or The Pirate Lady) was listening to me vent about it. I was frustrated beyond words, because this project was special, it was important, it was something I was personally proud of, and I couldn’t make it work.
Jenn and I tease each other without mercy, can argue for hours on end, but she is one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. (Don’t tell her I said that, her ego’s big enough as it is.)
Jenn listened politely, then nailed me dead square between the eyes. “You’re thinking like a thriller writer,” she said. “This audience is not thriller readers. They will be shocked, they will be horrified, they will come out of their chairs over this.”
And the light dawned.
That very afternoon when I got back to my office, I opened it up again and looked at it not as a thriller writer, but as a writer. I read it not as someone who grew up on Ian Fleming and Alistair MacLean and Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen, but as a regular, everyday, ‘hey this might be interesting’ reader.
I saw the flaws almost instantly. Another two weeks of effort, and it was done. I was happy with it. And now, at last, SOMETIMES, THERE REALLY ARE MONSTERS UNDER THE BED is available for Kindle and Nook.
Frustrating business, this Writing Stuff. There are times I tell myself I’m still a young man, I could get into something decent and reasonable, like selling used cars, or condo time-shares to retirees, or maybe television evangelism.
But then, the words flow, the plot holds, it all comes together, and, to quote Freddy Shoop in SUMMER SCHOOL, “This sh** works!”