Tag Archives: writing a novel

Writing a Novel: Why It’s So Hard

The following is something I wrote years ago, and keep in a notebook I’ve labeled “Inspiration and Encouragement”. I thought I’d already posted it, but can find it nowhere in either of my blogs (WordPress and Blogger).

I found it again today, when I went searching for some “inspiration and encouragement” and it so describes what I’ve been going through the last couple of days (yes, I’ve actually gotten into the office and worked for three days running now!) I thought I’d post it here.

Writing a Novel: Why is it so Hard?

Because it’s work. And work is hard. Work is not walking up to the tree and pulling off the fruit whenever you happen to want some. Work is breaking the soil, which does not easily yield. It is striking over and over with the hoe; it is crumbling it to a fine consistency, preparing it for the seed; it is sowing the seeds, a few at a time, walking down each row, one after the other. It is watering and waiting and weeding. And waiting. And weeding. And thinning and watering and waiting and pruning and watering and waiting and weeding and watering and finally harvesting.

Work involves doing the same thing over and over and over until you get the result you want. It often involves discomfort – muscles get sore and tired from use, skin forms blisters, callouses, emotions deflate from an initially excited anticipation and determination to frustration and even despair.

You can do more work, the more you practice it  – the stronger you are or become, the more work you can do. Even so, eventually you will reach a point where you’ve hit your limit and have to rest.

So with writing. Banging on that hard soil with the hoe is not easy. It must be done again and again. It takes effort, time. You must keep doing it, though you are uncomfortable and tired, though you are not seeing very much progress (if any). You must wait, and you must be patient. Just as the seed germinates below the ground without your awareness, so do many ideas and solutions germinate in your soul and mind, below the ground, without your awareness.

It’s hard because it’s work. We are to expect it to be hard. Embrace that, be organized, professional. Don’t complain, don’t give up, but throw yourself into the work with maximum effort and enthusiasm. The more you pound on the hard ground, the sooner it will yield, the sooner it will be soft and fertile and ready for the seed.

Remember, too, that much of the process does not involve our own effort. We cannot make the seed germinate faster, or the plant grow faster. We must wait, even as we work. We must rely upon God to provide the germination and growth, to protect, to provide the nutrients in the soil so that the sprout will become a seedling and the seedling a plant, bearing fruit in its time…

Just Ask For What You Need

One of the prevailing messages the Lord seems to be giving me of late is, again, to come to Him and ask, to let Him do the things He’s called me to do.  In everything, but particularly the writing.

A week or so ago I listened to a message Pastor John taught last year, wherein his words so closely echoed what I’ve been dealing with this year, that I stopped the tape and wrote it all down.

He said,

“I still get in these situations where I’m a little intimidated (Me: YES!!!! intimidated by the book I’m attempting to write.”  “I know there’s something I need to be doing with these people (the characters in my book!) but I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what I should say.  (EXACTLY what I had been moaning about and experiencing regarding the book) 

He went on to describe himself as someone who when there’s too many people around, tends to get overwhelmed, thinking he has to deal with everyone.  In my case, there’s too many characters, too many possible threads, motivations, scenes, conflicts… too many possibilities. It’s a good thing to have a lot of possibilities — it makes your work richer. But it can be completely overwhelming and intimidating.  Thus I could relate completely to what he was saying.

It happens to Pastor John all the time. And then he realizes:

“You know what? I don’t have to come up with a great creative solution here! All I gotta do is go to my Lord, my Father and say, “Hey. You know what I want and you know what you want. Now you just gotta put the light bulb on. And He does!”

Well, I was completely blown away when he said that. It was so targeted to my situation, so completely apropos and yet… I hadn’t been doing that.  I thought I had to figure it out.

So what was the next thing he said?

“I can’t tell you how long it was where I thought it was up to me, ultimately. Me figuring it out, putting all the energy into it and … fail, fail, fail. And I was miserable, walking around with a guilt complex, feeling inadequate, horrible.

“But the fact is, God the Holy Spirit is the one who’s behind this. This variety of gifts, this idea that this is something where you can relax and understand that Ephesians 2:10 says He’s already ordained the things for you to walk in. All you gotta do is show up with a heart that’s wanting to serve with the bible doctrine that’s already in your soul and walk. And walking isn’t hard. No one gets a prize because today I walked…

“No, it’s God who’s doing the heavy lifting here. Just say, “Yes!” and put one foot in front of the other. Be positive, go in the right direction, show up and have a desire and God will take care of the rest.”

And in today’s message, he brought all that around again. We’re to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, to abide in Him as He abides in us. We — I — can do nothing apart from Him. If I abide in Him and His words abide in me, I am told to ask whatever I wish and it will be done for me. And by this is My Father glorified.

Me abiding in the Vine and His words — His truth — abiding in me and then I ASK Him for what I need. This is pretty much the whole point, the whole deal.  That I come to understand more and more about grace — which is God’s unlimited capacity and desire to bless me — and the truth of who He is and then ask Him for whatever I need.

Like what do I do in the next scene? How am I going to get out of this corner I just wrote myself into? All the details that so intimidate, me, ask Him to show me. And I’m thinking that it’s important to be specific, rather than general…

So that’s what I’m hoping to do tomorrow. And I think I’ll just ask Him now to help me to remember that.

A Potential Delivery Date?

Yes, really. I did write that. I like “Potential Delivery Date” better than “Deadline,” so I’m going to stick with it. And it may be that I have one.

Today’s been another decent day. I worked through some back story on one of my major characters and since he is the father of my female lead and the sponsor of my male lead, that has ramifications for everyone.

Part of my problems with trying to get my head around everything is that over time I have changed the set- up.  Is the person retired military or a government official? Or a successful business man? At one time or another it’s been any or all three. I’d decide one, write a bit and switch to another, forget there was the first, maybe after time forget there was the second and switch to a third. Then, on account of all the interruptions that have taken place in my life, I would forget even the third and go back to the work thinking the second was it, only to discover a reference to the first idea, and then get all caught up in trying to decide which was better…

Today I went through all my versions and distilled what I like best and now have three pages of consistent history for one of my main characters. Since this impacts the chapters I’m currently working on, that’s a good thing.

But… yes, I know: I said something about a potential delivery date.

That’s because, in addition to the Bible messages and personal conviction I wrote about in yesterday’s post, something else happened over the weekend.  On Saturday (two days ago, now) I got an email from my agent, forwarding a request from Bethany House for an update on me and this book. They asked for a delivery estimate. 

In the past I’ve felt like there was no way I could give them one. But this time the email triggered the thought that maybe I could. I’d said in my original synopsis that I could deliver a first draft by May of 2011. Well, clearly that didn’t happen, but now I’m getting the thought… why not May 2013?  Was that from the Holy Spirit, or just pure and simple wishful thinking? I don’t know. Quite possibly the latter, so at first I resisted. How can I say what’s going to happen next? How can I possibly give a date? You remember, I reminded the Lord, how much of  a fiasco the last one was.

Still, it seems to me He’s kept on nudging me with the May date. So I’ve decided to give it a week.  If tomorrow everything crashes back into what it’s been… maybe I’ll say nothing. But if the state I’m in right now continues and the conviction continues… well… maybe I’ll float the suggestion by my agent at least… That’s almost exciting.

But I’ll give it a week …

Sit and Wait

This is funny. I accessed my blog just now (Sunday afternoon) in order to take the link here to my old blog (Writing from the Edge 1)  and discovered that I never published the post I’d intended to put up last Thursday.  Duh!  I could have sworn that I had at the least typed it into the WordPress program and just forgot to push “Publish.”

Alas. No. I did type it into notepad in a first draft stage, but I must’ve left the office and walked through too many doorways after that and so forgot! (See article HERE on how walking through a doorway causes forgetfulness.)

But it was a post I liked, a bit more timely last week than this, so, what the heck — I’ll post it now, anyway:

Sit and Wait

I wrote the following on June 21, 2007 during the early going of writing The Enclave. In fact, I was on chapter 5. I could have as easily written it any day this last week. I’m currently working on chapter 6 of The Other Side of the Sky and this entry from FOUR years ago describes exactly what I went through last week. Well, am probably still pretty much going through:

21 June [2007] Thursday 10:30 am I have chaos now. The book’s giving me a flood of additional options, thoughts, directions. Suddenly all I thought was decided has come into question. Should Gen be assistant director and not Slattery? How metaphysical and quirky should this Institute be? Do they require meditation two times a week [like the early Biosphere did of its staff]? Drama? How does the way the Biosphere developed compare with what I’m doing? Do I need more information? Different information?

Okay, I might as well get used to the fact that this is how it’s going to be with writing. From afar the field looks beautiful and smooth, aglow with color. When you get into it, it’s a bramble patch on rutted, rocky ground, full of pitfalls and boulders. I’m in over my head and can’t see where I’m going.

I have to trust the Lord — utterly — to guide me. Not only with respect to the path the book will take, but with respect to the path my actions will take.

12:30pm I worked on gleaning, transfering notes, thinking until 11:45am, then stretched. Just now I did a blog post for tonight [for the record it is 1:08pm as I type this] I’m tired.

I read a cool poem though, the last line of which was, “They also serve who stand and wait…” Not wait, trust and do the next thing. Just stand/sit and wait. For direction…

6:30pm Bible class is done. I’m back in bed, icing my foot [this was back when I’d broken my ankle].  I did a nonstop, then moved stuff into chapter 5 and then edited the first part of my hard copy. It’s extremely messy and confused right now. But I’m no longer frozen.


Though I had no opportunity to work on Thursday after I had read this and copied it into Notepad, or on Friday, when I did get back to the work on Saturday, I had the same sort of breakthrough I described here: ie, no longer frozen.

Can we say “This is the PROCESS, Karen?” Why are you always so surprised?

Another Five Pages

I seem to finally be getting into the swing of things writingwise!  Today I progressed another five pages through chapter 1 (and really that’s chapter 2 because I already have a prologue completed).  I’m back to writing long chapters. Supposedly thrillers like The Enclave have a convention of short chapters (about 15 pages or less), but I don’t by nature write short chapters. Especially not when I’m starting out. This chapter is currently 26 pages long, but I expect that will end up a bit shorter. My comfortable range is around 20 pages per chapter.

I also rediscovered my research books today! Not that they were hidden. They’ve been sitting on shelves in my office and in my bedroom in plain sight all the time. But today it  suddenly occurred to me to take them off the shelves and look inside!

Whoa!  Inspiration on every hand. And I’m not even reading in earnest, just skimming, stopping to read whatever catches my eye. Very fun. One book, called “As the Romans Did” actually has recipes! And actual invitations in which the proposed fare for the dinner party is laid out as an incentive to accept, or in one case, punishment for having accepted the invitation and not showing up:

So! You promise to come to dinner, and then you don’t come!  You will be tried and fined the full cost of the dinner, and not a penny less. My kitchen staff had prepared one head of letuce for each of us, three snails and two eggs each, barley soup along with mead and snow (you’ll pay for the snow first, although it melted right in the dish), olives, beets, cucumbers, onions and a thousand other items no less sumptuous.”

I also, before starting any of it, went outside with Quigley in the midmorning (now that it’s cool enough to do so) and sat on a bench in the shade in our backyard and just drank in the quietness, the peace, the trees and the birds and the grass. It was wonderful. I also wrote a bit in my journal, until suddenly I was moved to come inside and get going.

The important thing now is to keep it going. I think part of the problems I’ve had in all this is that I kept getting interrupted by one thing or another. I’d have a day or two of work, then suddenly events would intrude and I’d not be able to pay any attention to the book. Usually another day like that would follow. And then I’d have lost the momentum and want to do anything but go and start to write again. I feel differently today.

Hopefully tomorrow I can continue this run. As things stand now, it looks as if I can since I don’t have any big plans… but as I know far too well, plans can change in an instant. I also know, though, that my times are in God’s hands and if He wants me to get this book written He’s going to have to at least give me the opportunity to do it, even if I don’t take advantage of it. My intent today and hereafter is to make sure if the opportunity is there that I DO take advantage!