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Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Life: The Black Moment of a Writer's Soul

In all my books, the hero will at some point experience the "black moment", when all hope is lost and he/she is faced with  hopeless odds and there is no turning back.

I had never really thought it applied to the writing process until I hit a BLACK MOMENT last Friday with the sudden realisation that I was writing the WRONG BOOK. I am not talking about "writer's block", although that is a related symptom of the disease. (When you are writing the WRONG BOOK, every word is extracted from your subconscious like fingernails being pulled from the roots)

It began with a bad decision... I decided to write a Regency Romance. I won't say it was a cynical decision but I was looking at "the market" and trying to be sensible and business like. I did a business case evaluation and decided on a balance that Regency sells- English Civil War doesn't. Don't get me wrong, I like Regency romances - Anne Gracie and Jo Beverley are 2 of my favourite authors. I read and enjoyed Jane Austen but Georgette Heyer bored the socks off me as a teenager (although I have recently come to enjoy her work). As a period of history "Regency" is not seated in my soul - I can do Georgian and Victorian but I don't live and breathe Regency in the way my Regency writing friends do. So yes, it probably was a cynical decision but once I started writing it, I came to like my characters and I enjoyed playing with the social mores of the time.

Now if you have ever read my books you will know I like a gnarly plot and I simply couldn't write a "straight" regency. Oh no...a little bit of a murder mystery crept in, just to amuse the characters and give them some external conflict to play with. I finished did nicely in a contest for unpublished a full request...and a rejection. Several more full requests and more rejections until the last rejection. It was one of those lovely rejections that makes you think the editor actually really liked the book but it didn't quite fit the fact she said "too much mystery". Oh... back to the submission roundabout until an email appeared out of nowhere from the same publishing house, requesting a submission to another line.  With a few tweaks it may be suitable for the "crimrance" line  ie...all I needed to do was convert it from a romance with a mystery to a mystery with a romance. Easy, peasy! 

Welcome to Mt. Doom and the vaults of Mordor...

So that is what I have been doing...all year. Yes, all my writing energy has gone into "tweaking" this book. The problem is a proper mystery or crime story is structured differently to a romance and this book was written as a romance. To do it justice, required a major rewrite and on Friday as the characters gathered in the stable for the climax, involving shoot outs and carriage chases, I stared at the computer screen and realised it was all wrong and wrong on so many levels but I couldn't put my finger on the cause of the trouble. I had reached Mount Doom. I emailed my wonderful critique group in utter despair and one of my group emailed me back:  Are you sure it's rubbish or are you mourning the story that was? Is it because it's not singing in your heart like your stories normally do?

YES! She had hit the proverbial nail on the head. It was both of those things but primarily the second. This story had never sung in my heart. I had begun writing it for the WRONG reasons. It had always been the WRONG STORY. What if it was accepted even as romance? Did I want to go on writing Regency romance?, because it is not my period of history. I'm not comfortable in that period and I really feel one of the reasons for its rejection was because my voice lacked authenticity.  The conventions of regency romance are not my sort of stories and when that was combined with trying to make it fit into a mystery template, I was, in point of fact, trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Even if I managed to make it vaguely circular and force it into some sort of compliance, it would never sit properly. I was cheating myself and more importantly I was cheating the reader.

So I have just spent over half a year on a story that I now know is going nowhere. It is the WRONG STORY. What to do?

Should I...?

  • Battle on and finish it, submit it to the editor who requested it? Odds on it will be rejected but what if it's not? Is it a one off or do I want to write regency "crimrances" or will she get a terrible shock when my next book is an English Civil War "crimrance" (you know...that period that nobody wants to read about!)? Or
  • Do I accept that career wise I made a wrong decision, take the learnings from the experience and write something I want to write...the story that is singing in my heart?
There is a third alternative that I am considering... To do a total rewrite, set in a period I feel comfortable in eg Victorian or Edwardian...but right now I couldn't bring myself to do that. My characters are exhausted - I am exhausted. I think we all need a cup of tea and a good lie down.

So, I am setting it aside  and picking up the story I have been wanting to write all year - the one I want to pitch at the conference in August, the one that makes my heart sing and my eyes light up when I talk about it. 

Sometimes the lure of publication may not be all that it promises to be...not if you find yourself writing the WRONG BOOK.

Back to a happy place...