The Hours opens with Virginia Woolf’s most famous line.
Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
Woolf, played by Nicole Kidman, scratches out those words via fountain pen and the story of Mrs. Dalloway appears to flow without effort from there. Of course, there are interruptions. Maid Nelly hounds her about lunch. Sister Vanessa and her changelings arrive for tea. Virginia interrupts herself, flummoxed over which one of her characters need to die— the heroine or the poet. Yet, whenever I watch the film or read the book, I come away believing no matter how many times Woolf is interrupted whenever she returns to her writing the story flows across the page.
It’s, of course, a misconception. Even prolific Stephen King admits to having doubts and periods of writer’s block. But after years of showing up he’s able to tumble into his creative flow-zone, with a musical score by AC/DC.
My creative-flow zone will never be accompanied by rock and roll bands, but my first round of revisions have ramped up my understanding of craft and paved the way for my flow to root. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Fact— Backstory is a bitch.
What I thought— backstory is best delivered like a campfire story.
Problem— kills momentum. But a certain amount of backstory is crucial for the story because readers need context to appreciate the current state of unrest in the protagonist’s life.
Lesson learned— backstory needs to be woven into the story so it enters the reader’s mind as if by osmosis. These flashes of the past must be dropped like crumbs for the reader to collect, like in a game of Clue.
Fact— Never hold back; more is more-better.
What I thought— if I spilled the good stuff too soon, I’d end up with dry heaves and the story would drop off a cliff.
Lesson learned— The more Kaitlyn spilled her guts the more guts she had to spill. Turns out, her emotions refuel like one of those candles that relight.
Fact— That which grows simplest grows best.
What I thought— as long as I captured the precise emotional atmospheric landscape for each of Kaitlyn’s interactions, the reader would somehow understand the specifics. I know, just writing that makes my head spin like a Looney Tune Character.
Lesson learned— the more specific Kaitlyn was about her thoughts, feelings and goals, the clearer the narrative became.
How I managed to write twelve drafts of Kaitlyn’s story and complete two other novels without learning these basics is a mind-boggle and clarifies— without a doubt— why it was impossible for me to land an agent or a book deal.
But thanks to the lessons above and what I’m about to reveal, the Snow Queen believes rejection will no longer be the only path for my writing life.
If you’ve been following my journey with this revision process, you know it’s been heavenly hell and near the end I contemplated quitting. Of course, addicts of patience and persistence don’t quit. Because they can’t quit. Because they’re addicts.
Time out as the Looney Tune Character crosses the stage.
And as you may recall, there was lots of Award-winning Resistance. With Round One behind me, I see how other forms of resistance plagued me early on. Remember the nonsense about how I could only write five days a week because I needed Saturday to regroup and Sunday to write this post? RESISTANCE. But my fear over facing my innermost demons was so overwhelming I couldn’t see it.
But here’s the thing about that— If I was really afraid of facing my innermost demons, I would never have begun Kaitlyn’s story and most definitely never rewritten it EVER. But I did because it was an idea I couldn’t let go of.
Elizabeth Gilbert calls that BIG MAGIC. I’m reading it now. Of course, I am. Because the universe sent it to me, because once you find the idea you need to pursue creatively and you accept the partnership, the universe supplies you with the material you need to bring it to fruition.
You’ll start to notice all kinds of signs pointing you to the idea. Everything you see and touch and do will remind you of the idea. The idea will wake you up at night and distract you from your everyday routine. The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.
Kaitlyn’s journey is the story I need to write, must write. If it doesn’t get written, the other stories waiting in the wings will never have a chance to dance in the light. And let me tell you, they’re no longer young but they’re definitely restless.
But a funny thing happened. Even while I was ranting about how I could only write five days a week for six hours and no more, little shifts to my daily routine began to happen:
- I stopped reading email. I did dump the trash and unsubscribe to newsletters I recognized as unessential. But other than that, I paid my bills and stayed away.
- I posted what is basically a Gone Fishing sign on Twitter and put any available social time into Instagram. This shift was a huge energy saver.
- I cut back on reading. Used to read before my writing session and before bed and on Saturdays. But I stopped reading at night and the last few weeks of Round One I eliminated reading during the week— I found being in someone else’s imaginary world messed with my ability to dive deep into my own.
- Time with my husband whittled down to an hour over dinner. Bless his heart, he understands. Lucky me.
- I started my writing sessions earlier and ended sometimes after midnight. I never stopped until the goal for the day was complete.
All of these shifts were little signs from the Universe nudging me to go all-in with Kaitlyn’s story because she— for the time being— is the great work of my life. Once I surrendered, writing the hard stuff was still an emotional drain, but the creative flow was stronger, and it allowed me to push beyond that ridiculous pronouncement of, “I can only write X number of days for so many hours.” Bullshit Resistance.
Once I got beyond— what I see now as— my arbitrary limitations, the voice of my Hatha yoga teacher rang through.
Stay in the pose until you reach the moment when you no longer wish to leave.
And so, every day when I reached the moment when I wanted to leave, I stayed; I stayed until I no longer wished to leave, and a little while longer.
The last month of the revision process was exhausting and the most invigorating writing I’ve ever experienced. I can’t wait to do it again. Lucky for me Round Two is waiting.
Tackling the content won’t be easier, but my relationship with the process will be more enjoyable because I now hold the key to my creative flow-zone. I’m a long distance writer. Wow. Just thinking about the isolation of marathon writing expands my breath; I’m an eagle in flight. And I’m willing and able to go the distance because Kaitlyn’s story, and all the stories waiting in the wings are worth it.