Monday, September 26, 2011

Loving and Hating the Process of Writing

by Laura Bickle

Writing a novel is like falling in and out of love. It's a relationship with stages. There's bliss, angst, reconciliation, and letting go. There are beginnings, middles and ends. And also sometimes shouting and tears.

Beginnings are tough for me. Nothing intimidates me more than staring at a blank page. There's absolutely nothing there but a sea of white. I chew on my lip and doubt myself. Can I conjure something from nothing? What if it never comes together?

I reluctantly tap out a first line. A hook. I squint at it, chew on my lip some more.

Is this concept worth pursuing? Is it attractive enough to chase through the next several months, through research and dreams and the flu? Is it going to be one of those easy relationships, with effortless flow? Or will this one be like pulling my own teeth?

There's no way to know. I futz and mumble to myself and stare at the first five pages, dawdle around the first chapter. I fret aloud and talk to the cat about the new relationship. This is one of the parts I dislike: the uncertain beginning.

The cat usually ignores me. I screw up the courage to take the plunge. I decide that I like the idea. I flirt with it a bit, chase it around like a butterfly. I court it. Sometimes, I can be trusted to even put on a clean T-shirt while typing. I'm trying to impress it. I even make an outline.

And it flirts back with me...with snatches of phrases. Images. I type and scribble notes, fearful of losing anything. Typing, typing...

And then I'm suddenly at the middle. I'm all of a sudden in a committed relationship with the book. I can feel it taking shape, developing a life of its own. It starts to have its own moods.  Sometimes, it's cloying. Sometimes distant.

But we fall into a rhythm, greet each other at the same time every day. A standing date.

We talk. We do more than that. The book and I have discussions. In the middle, there are multiple ways for things to go. I try some things that work. I try some that don't. I pull out the note cards, fuss with my outline. I spread cards out on the floor all around me, trying to analyze and dissect what's working, what's not.

Sometimes, it's a test of endurance, pushing through. But I can see to the end. When I have the ending firmly structured, the last ten thousand words fly. It's bliss. I see where all the tendrils of thought and plot threads I had developed in the beginning curve back around. I think I understand the story, now: the hidden symbols, the growth of the character. I understand what it is about the story that attracted me to it. I understand what I'm afraid of about it.

The end is the best part. It gathers momentum, takes wing.

And flies right out of my hands. I type THE END on the last page.

And I feel a pang of sadness. It's gone. It's moved out of my life, out of my mind and my heart. There's still some tweaking to be done. Editing. Smoothing. But that part feels like the post-mortem of the relationship.

The story's gone. I did what I needed to: I gave the story a voice. And it left me. The nest's empty. Lonely. I hate that feeling.

And the only solution is to fill it again, with another egg of a story. Another beginning.


  1. Wonderful post -- very much something all writers can relate to. Thanks for sharing this! ~Ali

  2. Great post! That's exactly what writing a novel feels like. I struggle with the middle more than the start. At the start its all new and exciting and I have no idea where it might all end up. By the middle its not as exciting as it was at the start yet I'm not close enough to the end to see the possibility of ever finishing.

  3. "Sometimes, I can be trusted to even put on a clean T-shirt while typing. I'm trying to impress it."


    Funny how by the end of the book we totally devolve into a coffee and cookie fueled madman whose definition of "clean" means "not condemned."

  4. Thanks, Ali! The process isn't very glamorous for me, and it does have ups and downs.

    Marissa, I've heard that a lot of writers connect to the beginning part. I'm very jealous! They just scare the hell outta me! ;-)

    KAK, the end-of-novel throes are never pretty over at my house!

  5. "I understand what I'm afraid of about it." Ah yes. 'nough said.

  6. Great post! My process is different. I love the beginning. Just like falling in love - it's a warm rush of delight. Plenty of energy. A high. Things get tough in the middle and the end - is really, really, hard.