By Martha Reed
Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. - William Feather
I’m delighted to report that I sat my butt in a chair pretty much the whole weekend and actually finished Chapter 23 of my new novel. This is momentous because Chapter 23 is pivotal to the emotional development of one of my characters and generally I do everything in my power to avoid working on anything in the emotional vein up to and including packing a suitcase and fleeing to the beaches in Florida. However, I also have the fever in my veins that comes from being forty pages away from finishing a 300 page work and I hope those of you out there who have experienced this moment understand why I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night to scribble new insights and plot twists and why I’ve taken to talking to myself during my day job. Thankfully, I have an understanding boss and I’ve successfully trained my family to ignore me.
It seems pretty amazing to me that I’ve accomplished this thing not once but twice and the best lesson I’ve culled from this repeat experience is that I’ve learned to trust my story a whole lot more and in ways I never did the first time. My understanding of the characters is more solid, too, and if I go out on a limb and write something far fetched I now know enough to put on my editorial hat and reel it back in right away versus spending a month or two on a chapter that I’d later kill. I also know that I’m lucky to have this storytelling gift and I do feel quite a bit like Rapunzel, spinning words (and gold) out of thin air.
Which makes me think of all the great folks I’ve met over the past fifteen years who didn’t make the jump. For one reason or another, usually involving family/children or a difficult work situation, I’ve seen my share of writer’s groups bite the dust. My favorite group met for more than a decade before it quietly faded away and I still wonder what happened to those stories that didn’t get born: Jim’s prescient and apocalyptic vision of the future including advances in science like stem cell research that is going on even as I write this down; Joan’s amazing autobiography of her life as an American woman living inside Iran during the downfall of the Shah and the Rise of Fundamentalist Islam and wouldn’t that still be timely; Betsy’s transmogrified experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in Gabon and the subsequent dislocation of her ‘normal’ life upon her return to western ‘civilization’. If it’s true that we are all recycling the same stories over and over, where do the stories that don’t make it go?