It’s a miracle

by Alex

Yes, I turned in my third book, THE POLTERGEIST EFFECT, this week, and am experiencing that ecstatic rush of endorphins I hear women feel after going through the bone-crushing pain of delivery and finally giving birth – you know, that nasty seductive chemical trick that nature plays that makes women think they would ever want to get pregnant again…

Finishing is a relative term, of course – the revisions on this one are going to be pretty brutal. But even this stage of finished is such nirvana compared to a month ago when I was seriously telling my bf I just wasn’t going to pull it off, this time – this book was just not going to come together in whatever lifetime I had left.

And I meant it.

I’ve been told that I’ve said this before. I don’t think it was ever as true as this time, but maybe… in which case I really must get tattooed someplace on my body where I will always be able to see it: “You always feel this way at this stage, just shut up and keep writing.”

Actually, that’s a tattoo that would really hurt. Maybe just “Keep writing” for short.

Now, I was familiar with this stage in screenwriting. This would be the time about two weeks before deadline when my writing partner would pitch a fit, screaming that it would never come together, storm off and disappear for two or three days, in which I just kept going, stitching things together, basically faking it, and by the time he calmed down and came back, both of us could see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, and after the light at the end of the tunnel comes that blissfully anticipated stage – critical mass – and once you have critical mass, you know you’re going to have a script. He needed to step back, I needed to push through. It wasn’t exactly a fun thing, but it always worked.

The thing is, I always had faith that I’d be able to pull a screenplay together at the end. With a book, you’re talking about a much more massive thing that you have to pull together, four times as long as a screenplay, and it’s not just the story that has to work, but the prose and the emotion and the suspense and every single little other thing.

I knew I could finish this book eventually, but I thought it might take years, like, you know, Stephen King takes to write his books. (And I have this train of thought in the back of my mind, now… how can I work myself into a position that I CAN take two years to write a book if I need to…?).

So maybe I just have to get used to the much newer feeling of thinking a book is never going to come together and do whatever it is I did to push through this time. The trouble is, much like a woman in labor, I already don’t really remember what I did to push through. There was depression, there was writing in bed to trick myself into writing at all, there were thoughts that my career was over, of having to find something else to do for a living… I think possibly there was a deal with the devil… but it’s all kind of a blur.

On a practical level I threw out chapter after chapter, especially in the first hundred pages. Oh, right, I threw out the entire end, too. I restructured. I changed the villain. Did I mention that because of a sort of impossible deadline I was trying to “pants” this one? Never, ever, ever again. Ever. Allison Brennan must be some kind of witch to write that way, because no normal human being could pull it off. I’m going back to an 80 page outline for the next one, thank you very much (and my next one is a short story, btw).

But I hope that three’s the charm and that it is now a little more ingrained in my deep subconscious that I CAN pull it off, even when it feels like a book will never come together. The tattoo might help.

Because even after all that trauma and self-doubt and loneliness and despair, I am thrilled that this book, this world, these characters, this mystery, now EXIST. That’s the thing that keeps me writing, even as battered as I feel sometimes. It’s so awesomely concrete. A book exists that did not exist before. No one else could have written it. It came out of nothing, and now it’s an entire, living, breathing world.

THAT is a miracle, and I am so very grateful.

So tell me – what do YOU do to push through whatever you need to push through? Do you need to be reminded that you CAN?

Again, all commenters this month are automatically eligible to win a signed hardcover of THE PRICE. I’m pleased to say our lovely and talented regular Catherine is last week’s winner – Catherine, would you e mail me an address: alex at alexandrasokoloff dot com

RIP Tim Russert… you are already missed.

26 thoughts on “It’s a miracle

  1. billie

    Alex, congratulations on getting your THIRD novel in!

    Re: pushing through: my process is a lot like what you’ve described. I need to let myself get a bit frenzied, think through the worst case scenario, decide I’m willing to live with that if I have to, and then I simply reduce whatever the seemingly insurmountable task is down to is most basic parts and tackle them one little increment at a time.

    It has thus far in my life always been true that a short way in to this very meticulous “increment” approach, something clicks and it shifts over to a more normal pace. But in the beginning, it feels like slogging through nearly set cement.

    What it is, for me, is overcoming inertia. Even the tiniest bit of movement, followed by one more bit, gets things rolling again.

    And you’re so right – we do seem to forget these slumps – that we have them, that we got through them. I have a number of clients who really only need me for one thing – to talk them through the inertia of new projects/stuck places/etc. They forget they can do it. They forget that to even be where they are, they’ve already DONE it.

    Another thing I do and recommend, is that if the thing one needs to do feels stuck beyond all hope, go to the foundation. Which is diet, exercise, and meditation (or whatever technique works for the individual person). I know that when I get stuck, I often let other things slide. Picking back up on those basics will usually give the extra nudge needed to tackle the original “issue.”

    Sometimes we need to just roll around in the stuckness though. Unless it becomes truly debilitating, it can be a useful thing to remember how it feels and how one comes out of it.

    Funny you wrote this today – I have been struggling with riding my horse after a lesson that didn’t go well. Nothing bad happened, except I realized that the trainer we’ve been working with has reached the limits of where she can go with us, and that for now, he and I need to go it alone for awhile. And then – inertia set in!

    The extreme heat didn’t help matters. So… back to basics. I’m building an equine labyrinth to walk/ride with him. And he and I are now getting massages on the same day each month, and it’s no surprise to me that we have the same tight places. This last week he fussed and fussed when the massage started, and I was gabbing away, trying so hard to fill the massage therapist in on our woes – when what we both needed was quiet and to just let the massage do its work. I stopped talking. Voila. He calmed right down and literally closed his eyes.

    It’s that whole spiral thing – we get better/higher as we go, but we always spiral through some of the same struggles.

    Reply
  2. Alexandra Sokoloff

    As always, we’re very lucky to have an actual Rati therapist, and such a wise one! That makes so much sense, Billie, that one of the main reasons people seek therapy is to have someone help them through the “stuck” phase. I guess success is about getting through that trough.

    And even for horses!

    I was just thinking about you this morning, actually, because I’m working a horse into the scene I’m writing.

    Reply
  3. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Alex,CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

    This is a big deal.

    I didn’t so much get stuck in the draft of Darnda’s first-seen manuscript (it went to my agent a couple of weeks ago) as with the fact that I knew it was still incredibly lumpy.

    But I know that low you’re talking about. I live there often in the course of writing a book and I just push through and write anyway . . . even if all of that gets thrown away.

    Reply
  4. JT Ellison

    X, first, CONGRATS!!!!

    Were you eavesdropping on me this week? I swear I said all the exact same things — I’m scared about this book, can’t seem to get my head around the story, it won’t actually come together… I even told my Dad that there was no way I would ever wing it through a story again, I’m going to start outlining. No way, no how and I going to put myself through this again.

    Billie’s advice is spot on — it’s worked for me in the past to redecorate my office, reorganize all my files, focus on taking care of me. It doesn’t seem to be working this time, and as my self-imposed deadline of June 30 rapidly approaches and I’m not making the progress I need to, I’m getting desperate.

    Thanks for letting me know there is light at the end of the tunnel and I might be able to get it together in time. I think I need to take an Internet vacation and get this draft done.

    Reply
  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    JT, I cannot tell you how much it helped me to go out even briefly with writer friends who all said variations of the same thing (“I NEVER thought I’d finish this last one…”). Even as I hated them, as in wanted to kill them hated them, for being done, I HEARD the message, that we all go through it sometimes, maybe always. You will make it.

    Pari, I know – I wish I were one of those writers who can just take a break instead of pushing through, but I do have to push through, and I do end up throwing a lot of those push-through pages away.

    Reply
  6. billie

    Alex, you know I’m not far away, so if you get to a place where you need to hang out with some horses, just let me know.

    I recently postponed my June “writing retreat” weekend here for a few writer friends – will likely have it in August or late September, so if you’re interested in something like that, consider this an official invite. 🙂

    One writer came anyway b/c she didn’t mind the scheduling glitch that cut into the weekend, and we had good writing time punctuated with donkey hugs, horse whisperings, and kayaking. And ended each day reading pages out loud and having apple-tinis!

    Reply
  7. R.J. Mangahas

    First off, congratulations on finishing your third book. I’m looking forward to reading it when it comes out.

    I think I’m on the stage of my WIP now where I’m thinking “Just how in the hell am I going to get this done?!!?(And this is while NOT under a deadline)

    I’m still trying to push things ahead, but right now the wall is still there. I’ve been listening to music, watching movies, whatever. Although, that’s sometimes frustrating too because the whole time I’m thinking, “Damnit!! I should be writing right now!!” Although my girlfriend has been a pretty big help. We sometimes do writing exercises, and this can usually get my brain going. (Boy, it really helps that she’s a writer too)

    Reply
  8. Louise Ure

    Alex, I face the same doubt and insecurity with every book. After having to listen to the same complaints (“I can’t do this! I can’t remember how to write!”) from me three times, Jude Greber recommended that I keep a diary about how I feel at each stage of a book’s birth. Damned if she wasn’t right. I complain about the same things (or new, but similar things) in every book at the same stage.

    Reply
  9. Rae

    Alex,

    Congrats on finishing!

    I’m not a writer, but I do work on a lot of projects; one in particular that I refer to as The Project That Ate My Life is in the final stages of a 5-year long process. So I’ve had a lot of experience in pushing through things. I play a lot of games with myself to keep going, but they all boil down to a couple of simple ideas.

    First is, one small step at a time; this is especially helpful when you realize that the laws of physics are simply not going to work in your favor – you just can’t get it done in time. At those moments, if I can remember to tell myself “yeah, well you’re for sure not going to get it done if you don’t get off your ass and start moving”, I can usually keep going forward.

    The other is, be kind to yourself. Self-flagellation is time-consuming and causes wrinkles. You have to take a moment now and then to just stop and do something for yourself – if you don’t, no one else will.

    😉

    Reply
  10. Pammy D

    Thanks for the post, Alex.

    Congrats!

    I am finishing my first draft of my first novel (yikes). Somehow during the third act the writing spout became a trickle and I am pulling out words one by one. (The ‘No Word Left Behind Act’.)

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    And I should know what “pants” means, but I don’t. Explain, please?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Louise, I really need to do that project journal thing. I will grab a book this weekend and reconstruct as best I can, because I NEVER want to forget how down I was on this one. And it actually all turned out great.

    Billie, I’d love to come to the retreat. Let me know when!

    Reply
  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yike, Rae – five YEARS on a project. I’m not sure I can even imagine what a toll that takes.

    You are too right about having to take care of yourself before anyone else will. I’m not all that good at it, although I never let exercise slide… but it’s funny how much progress I suddenly made once I MADE myself take the time to meditate every day again.

    RJ and Pammy, I hope it’s helpful to hear everyone else talk about hitting these walls. It just seems to be part of the process… and the third quarter seems to be when it happens – just like in dramatic structure, hmm… funny about thtat!

    Reply
  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Pammy, “pants” as in “seat-of-the-pants” writing. I never heard “pantser” (as opposed to “plotters”) either, before I became a novelist. All screenwriters are plotters by the very nature of the job. Apparently some novelists don’t plot ahead of time. I am not one of them.

    Reply
  14. Allison Brennan

    Guilty as charged. Not being a witch, but yeah, if I had to plot out a story I would go insane. I mean, how in the world do you know what happens if you haven’t met the characters? If you don’t watch what they do and listen to what they say and feel their emotions? It’s like being pregnant and planning out the life of that baby from birth through college.

    Not that my way is perfect, but it’s the only way that works for me. (And I hate the term pantser, BTW. I like “organic” writer or non-plotter or I’ll settle for lunatic.)

    As far as pushing through to the end . . . that’s actually not my problem. My problem is always at the beginning of the second act (to use a screenwriting term!) Around page 150 (my manuscripts are generally 450-520 pages) I’m stuck. THIS is where I pull my hair out and stress and think I can’t do it, I’ll never finish this book, my career is over. My life is over. I’m going to have to pay back my advance. I’ll have to crawl back to the Capitol and beg for my old job back.

    But eventually I get through it. Usually by re-reading, editing, tweaking, fixing, deleting, revising, swearing, a few adult beverages, and then suddenly I write a new scene and it clicks and . . . the rest of the book seems to work.

    Sometimes at the end I don’t know how it’s all going to come together . . . usually because I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen . . . I can usually see 1-2 scenes ahead, but sometimes I get to a point where I have NO idea what’s going to happen. It’s usually right before the climax and everything has been building to this point but I can’t picture the big scene.

    What helps here is that I remind myself that I’ve completed XX number of books, that I ALWAYS have this problem, and if it doesn’t work there’s the delete key. I give myself permission to screw it all up. I find it much easier to revise than create.

    Reply
  15. Catherine

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the compliment and the copy of the ‘The Price’. I’m very glad whatever random chance method you used came up with my name. Congratulations on completing your new book too.

    I could really do with reading this blog topic too.Very timely. I’m operating at a vastly different scale. However somehow it makes me feel better knowing that people that can create entire books get through the stuck feeling. It also helps me get a grip, I’m only writing an essay, it could be worse I could be trying to write a book. Hah.

    I’ve recently been reminded by my Mum after I spent some time ranting and raving about this particular essay, that each semester I react like this to at least one assignment and I always pull through. I thought my disclaimer of, that was then, this is now… was quite apt…apparently I say that each time too. Mum’s patented advice which usually pulls me up short is,’If it was easy everyone would be doing it.’

    Hard to argue with.

    Pulling back to the wider picture, beyond my essay angst, to focus on the people who create books. Big congrats to all that do create and keep creating, because as a reader I’m grateful of the talent and discipline that it takes for those books to find a home on my bedside table. This to me starts obviously with the author but also includes whoever else is assisting the birth, be it boyfriends,husbands, wives, girlfriends, random strangers,Starbucks, plus the publishing family and booksellers and librarians.Thanks.

    Reply
  16. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Sokoloff,I’m still in the midst of pushing through, and it took a few things to get me to it. I am absolutely convinced this book will never see a press. Ever. At the same time, a writer on this site had some encouraging words, along with a metaphor from one of my idols, Michael Connelly. I’ve never been a surfer, but he described finishing the last third of a book as being like riding a pipeline, where you just get in and ride it. It doesn’t feel like that yet, but it’s getting smoother each day. So I guess I follow that. Just keep riding til you get in the pipeline.

    Reply
  17. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Allison, that’s interesting that your “stuck” place is the beginning of Act Two. That’s NEVER been a problem for me. I wonder if it has anything to do with the difference in writing/planning styles (although I don’t know what exactly that would be.)?

    Jake, I’d never heard that Connelly quote but I think it’s very apt. There has to be an inevitability and an implacability to the climax of a story and riding the pipeline describes it pretty perfectly.

    Reply
  18. Patricia Sargeant

    Alex, hearty congratulations on submitting your third completed manuscript! I’m working on my third as well, and it feels like passing a stone. But, like you, I’ve got to push through. Frankly, Deadline Fear makes it impossible for me to walk away. 🙁

    Oh, and hearing, “You always feel this way” doesn’t help me. I’m in This Moment now, and hearing that doesn’t help me in This Moment. I’d rather they just nod and grunt. 🙁

    Before I leave, I’d like to extend hearty congratulations to the Murderati bloggers for your Anthony Award nomination. I’m sorry I didn’t post sooner. I usually read your blog on my cell phone during breaks at work.

    Keep up the terrific job! And very best wishes for continued writing success!

    Patricia

    Reply
  19. Catherine

    Alex,

    My computer is playing up a bit so I’m checking that the email I sent you came through ok?

    Cheers,Catherine

    Reply
  20. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Sokoloff,You may never have heard it because he said it specifically to me while he was signing two books for me. I told him how some of his stories had inspired the one I was working on, and he asked how it was going. I told him I was in the middle of Act Two, shlogging my way through it, and about to go back and revamp the whole thing. He told me to stay with it, to keep gettin up on that board and to get in that pipeline. It was pretty cool for someone I respect so much to give me that, even if he’d never remember it in a million years. That, plus Mr. Rhoades being so encouraging in an email, has me getting closer and closer to that pipeline.

    Reply
  21. Rob Flumignan

    Okay, I have to ask: What, exactly, goes into an 80 PAGE outline? Seems like you’ve written most the book by that point. 🙂 But I’ll take anything that can help get me through the “What the frack was I thinking when I started this cursed novel” stage.

    Reply

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