Heaven or Hell

Some writers wax rhapsodic about their absolute undying forever-and-ever love for writing. Some have a real love-hate relationship going with it. Some are a bit more balanced about it. I think I’m a bipolar writer. Some days it’s the best most wonderful way in the world to spend time (and to get paid for it — hallelujah, ain’t life grand?!).

Other days I’d sooner break my own wrist than sit at the computer and try to create something. (And, yeah, been there, done that . . . though not on purpose. Honest.)

The past few months, I’ve been in a place where I haven’t hated writing. I’ve hated the process. I was starting a new book. I knew my characters and had a pretty good idea of how to get from “once upon a time” to “happily ever after.” I wrote a first chapter that I really liked. Great meet, witty conversation, sexual tension — it had it all.

Except suspense. No one reading that chapter would have guessed that it was a prelude to suspense, danger, love on the run. Forget the suspense, it was a straight romance. Which is a problem since the book was aimed at Silhouette Romantic Suspense.

So I revised it. Threw a hint of danger and an actual attack in it. Hated it. Couldn’t write one more scene beyond the end of Chapter 1.

So I revised it again. More danger, guns, bad guys in the street. Didn’t hate it, but . . . meh. Didn’t want to write an entire book of meh.

Revised again. And again. Got a great chapter where, in the very first line, the heroine is in danger, running for her life, fearful that her sister’s been kidnapped by the same armed men who are chasing her, is desperately afraid until the hero steps in to rescue her . . . for the moment. Great suspense, great action . . . not my characters or my story.

I was down so far that I’d have to look up to see the grass. I grumbled and whined and cursed a few people who influenced my career in the past, and then, because I couldn’t face those characters or their suspense again, I pulled out a chapter from a book I started a while back and reread it. And loved it. It’s got great characters, witty conversation, sexual tension and more. The only suspense in the book is “when will they . . .?” or “how will they . . .?” and I’m loving it. In one afternoon, I went from a vague outline to a fully-fleshed-out one for about 75% of the book and made detailed notes on story arcs that will carry into the next one.

Writing — when it’s going well, when you’re telling your story with your characters — can be an incredible thing. When it’s not going well, when the words won’t come, when outside forces are trying to push you a certain way, can be beyond miserable. Thank God, it’s never always bad, but it’s never always good, either. Up or down, heaven or hell, manic or depressed.

I’m a bipolar writer.

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13 thoughts on “Heaven or Hell

  1. Marilyn,

    I don’t know why it makes me feel better that someone so successful also has struggles… but it does. Makes you more human somehow–instead of a powerhouse writer that I am not worthy to know.

    I truly believe that you can’t FORCE a story. You can’t make a romance into a mystery, or add some sex to a thriller and call it a romance. Stories have themes and ideas that cause them to be something specific. If you’re in a straight romance mood and that’s the story that coming easily, then that’s what you need to be writing.

    Of course, if you’re contracted… that’s a different can of worms. spw

    • I’m not under contract right now — first time I’ve been grateful for that in a looong time.

      I am definitely human. I’ve never had writer’s block, but I’ve always respected the concept; I could see where that could be a problem. This is the closest I’ve gotten, and I know now that it’s because I’m trying to force the suspense. I should have realized it sooner, but I’m just glad I finally did!

    • Been there, too. Have banged my head on the desk, cursed, fretted . . .

      It’s so frustrating because with parts of my writing, I’m all or nothing. I was trying to write a good suspenseful chapter, and failing, while this little voice in my head was saying, “Ha, you’re DONE. You can’t write anymore. I always knew this career thing was just a fluke.”

      You know us writers . . . we have enough insecurity in our lives. We don’t need ANYTHING that makes us doubt ourselves more.

  2. I once tried to turn my suspense into an inspirational. This was right at the beginning of when Love Inspired was going to introduce suspense into their line. Cool. I’d get in on the ground floor.

    Um, NOT!

    I think I managed to get into the 2nd chapter but it just wasn’t working. My bad guy cussed. Pure and simple and there was no way to change him. I gave up trying to change the book and stick with what I knew best – what spoke to me. Guess that’s what we all have to do.

    Thanks for showing us that side of you, Marilyn.

    • You’re welcome, Linda!

      I remember that suspense/inspirational thing. We had just begun critiquing you, and I was so glad when you dropped the inspirational element. It just wasn’t a fit for that story.

  3. Marilyn,

    I really, REALLY love this post. I’ve been going great guns on my current WIP. I’ve loved every minute of it. But now Chapter Ten is kicking my a$$. I’ve have started, and re-started this chapter about three times over the last 3 weeks. Ugh! I know at some point I’ll move beyond this wall, but it’s sooo frustrating. And like Sandee said, it’s comforting to know it happens to writers like you. At least I’m in good company.

    • Doesn’t it make you want to kick something? (I always think drop-kicking the computer would be satisfying. But I’d probably break my foot or something.)

      On my last SRS, I had to rewrite it to ramp up the suspense, and it was sooo hard. That’s what made me realize that the new book was seriously lacking suspense. And the funny thing is the story has always had suspense elements — just light ones. And after weeks of trying to increase it, I finally realized I can either tell the story I want or make it more suspenseful, but not both. (You’d think as long as I’ve been doing this, it would have occurred to me sooner!)

      Good luck getting past Chapter 10!!

  4. LOL. Someone told me years ago that on every book, she wrote 5 or 6 chapters, then threw it all out and started over again. And I have to admit, I wondered why she didn’t just start with Chapter 7. That’s a lot of work to toss.

    About 2/3 of my first chapters are tough. The other third are usually really easy — an opening line will pop into my head and I’m off and running. Sure wish those numbers were reversed!

    Hey, the first Towelie episode of South Park is on. I love Towelie!

  5. I read this yesterday, but didn’t have a chance to comment because I was formulating my own blog idea–(posted today 6/16)
    –With the influx of so many cross-genres breeding with each other, I wonder if it will be the death of ‘true romance’. I commented in my blog that it seems as if the romance genre is becoming more and more erotic while other authors are bailing ship and writing romance as a sub-plot instead of the focus of the story.
    I guess I’m old-fashioned in the sense of wanting romance to be romantic again.

    • Me, too, me too! This project that’s got me excited again is really more women’s fiction. There are several romances running through it, but the emphasis is way more on the relationships, and way less on the sex.

      I’m heading to your blog next.

  6. I read this as soon as it was posted but was too fried to respond, but inside I was doing the slow 1980’s clap. You know the one when one kid stands and starts slowly clapping until the entire auditorium is standing and on their feet cheering and screaming.

    My name is Ren. And I AM a bipolar writer. I’m pulling myself from the fire to get back to the clouds.

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