I had every intention of finishing my manuscript in 2015. After all, when I made the decision to dedicate myself to writing full-time, ten months still remained in the new year.

And yet here I sit, at the beginning of 2016, with a draft that is five, maybe six, chapters shy of being a completed story. The bones — and then some — are all there. The beginning has been polished to a fare-thee-well. The climactic scene, in one final twist of (what I hope is) shock and irony, is followed by a logical and satisfying denouement. Between the two lie twists and turns, subplots, clues, and red herrings. What’s missing are the last bits of connective tissue that will tie all that bone and flesh together into the recognizable shape that is a COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT.

Somewhere along the way I realized it. I should have outlined this story. What I had done instead was much more of a synopsis: long on generalization, short on detail. I suppose I could blame it on my naivete. From some heretofore unknown wellspring of imagination, a story came to me. More precisely, a fragment of a story, although I didn’t know that at the time. In my excitement, I plunged ahead, full of optimism and confidence, anxious to get my tail in the chair and my tale on paper. You see, I am, or at least I have been, a pantser. Writing by the seat of my pants, that is. While that approach can take many an author straight through from beginning to end, it does not work for all. This I learned late. About 40,000 words into the book late.

If there’s anything that can beat optimism and confidence out of you, it’s the dawning realization that, despite having a good story to tell, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. It’s demoralizing, deflating, and depressing. Some days, it can be downright paralyzing.

So, what to do when you’re convinced you’ve written yourself neatly into a corner? Well, in my case, you start by studying those who’ve gone before, all those authors you admire and want to emulate and follow into a successful writing career. Surprise! Apparently, at one time or another, they’ve all experienced that beaten feeling — and some still do, years and piles of best-selling books later. Including those you think never would.

You apply yourself to the craft of writing. You read and study and join other writers in the journey. You take classes and complete workbooks. You attend conferences and workshops. And slowly you begin to believe that, yes, there is enough here to reinflate those dreams … and you have what it takes to do it.

This year, there will be no resolutions, no timetables, certainly no more self-flagellation. Just the writing, the blessed, awful, wonderful, tortuous writing. And a better-late-than-never outline to guide the rest of the way.

And so I write on.

 

How Long is the Writing Life?
Meeting Hallie Ephron