Writing a publishable novel may be the last thing I do before I die. Not because I have some terminal illness and the clock is ticking, going, going, going, gone! Although, I could be hit by a garbage truck on my morning walk with Abigail, as we dodge to the opposite side of our country road to maintain social distancing during this will-it-ever-end-pandemic.
Kaitlyn’s story may be the last thing I do before I die because writing a novel is hard. Like really hard. Like if I was in an MFA Creative Writing Program I’d flunk, or the school would need to give me an extension of like a century.
I’m baffled by this snail’s pace of a learning curve because in my former life, when I was on the way to Actress Super Stardom, I was a quick study. But mostly, I’m grateful. Because the slowness with which the elements of craft are rooting inside me means I’m not memorizing a formula to pump out a romance or cozy mystery— no offense intended to romance or mystery writers; I’m a sucker for romance, and at one time all I read were mysteries. In fact, over the years, I’ve often wished I was interested in writing hardcore genre tales because they do have more clearcut rules of writing to follow, and I might’ve been able to strengthen my storytelling skills faster, so I could get to my real problem area— emotional truth— sooner. If my mind worked that way, I might now be published and not thinking about this novel ending up as the last testament for my writing life.
But I digress, which is what I do and one of the reasons I’m still revising Kaitlyn’s story. But my digression default is not what I’m here to confess; although, it is sort of related to my latest novel writing revelation because digression is about avoidance.
Jump back to 2016 when I enrolled in Creative Writing at SUNY New Paltz to expand my toolbox by finally learning the rules seasoned writers no longer need to think about. I pretended I didn’t know anything, which wasn’t hard, and never once mentioned I was writing a cough-cough novel.
Zoom in to the day I asked instructor, Larry Carr— writer of plays, fiction and poetry— “Why are middles so hard?”
Because when you get to the middle, you have to tell the story.
“Anyone can write an opening,” Larry said. “Wrapping things up is relatively easy. Writers stop when they get to the middle because they don’t know the story.”
Fast forward to the last two weeks of this revision process. The “Bleeders”— all the necessary pillars of the story that floundered from lack of intent, motivation or emotional truth— were done. And so were all the scenes for Kaitlyn’s upward trajectory. Victory!
The downward trajectory was next. Easy-peasy I thought because Kaitlyn’s downward spiral is the last third of the story, which was the first part of the novel that worked for me. It was the part my Beta Readers were most excited about. “Wow, most debut novel endings suck, but yours soars.”
Yowza, with kudos like that who needs to revise, right?
Jump back to the Once You See It, You’ve Got It post, where I was blown away by how the core action of the story— forgiveness— was bubbling up in every scene.
Wrap that around Kaitlyn’s downward spiral and guess what? You know where this is going, right?— Kaitlyn’s downward trajectory isn’t the end of the novel, it’s the M-I-D-D-L-E.
Just when I thought I was over the hump of this revision I have to tell the bloody story.
Kaitlyn’s desperate need for forgiveness and her resistance to it is the story. Without that struggle, all I have is a lot of pages of so what? I am good at the so what? But that isn’t going to yield a publishable novel. The only way to reach that endgame is for Kaitlyn to open her heart and reveal one unbearable truth at a time, AND deal with it. The only way for her to do that is for me to keep very, very quiet — as all good witnesses must— because the unbearable truths that comprise the middle of the story are buried in my silence.
It’s not going to be easy. Nothing about this revision has been easy. And that’s why I’m still here. Because there is nothing more rewarding than being a Writer-in-Progress.