Monday, November 28, 2011


This post isn't about the new Lars Von Trier movie where Kristen Dunst gets married and ends the world (I didn't see that coming either).  This is about how writing seriously affects my mood.

If I am making a lot of progress, then I'm a pretty happy camper.  If I'm not, as usually the case, my frustration tends to show.  This week I made serious progress on my new novel.  I had been spinning my tires a bit before, but then I realized what had been the stumbling block.  The dam broke, but I wasn't feeling excited, or successful.  Somewhere around Friday, I got pretty blue. 

It took me by surprise.  It took a little introspection before I understood what was really bugging me.  In some ways, it was where I was in the book - a major character dies, leaving the story in shadow - but it was another passing that really became real as I worked through the pages this week.  Elements of this book date back 15 years.  Ideas I kept in my back pocket, concepts and characters I explored elsewhere in earlier attempts.  This isn't a drawer novel - if only I could get off that easy - but the truth is I have been working on a version on this story off and on for 10 years. 

This week, I realized, to my surprise and apparent dismay, the end was near.

Plenty of obstacles stood in the way of this project over the last decade.  Confusion over direction.  Artistic limitations.  Crippling self-doubt.  I shopped earlier, confused versions of it to agents and publishers.  Every so often, there would be interest, but the feedback mostly centered on what I didn't get at the time: I was throwing everything and the kitchen sink aisle at Home Depot in this book.  This was my love letter to the stories that inspired me in my youth - Star Wars, Indiana Jones - but also a reflection of my interests as an adult, so you'd get a draft like Michael Cunningham trying his hand at writing Lord of the Rings, if the Fellowship flew around in spaceship.

The story evolved, built up to one version and then collapsed.  My love-hate relationship with it puts the one I ended up developing with The Book of Elizabeth to shame.  I gave the story up for dead a few years back.  It refused to die, coming back to haunt me any time I tried to focus on something new.  Any time I tried to move on.  In the fall of 2009, an idea occured to me - the idea that would eventually become the #SciFiJohnHughesNovel.  This story borrowed some of the oldest, most persistent elements I had been trying to shoehorn into the #BigDamnEpic for 10 years. 

This summer, I started writing the #SciFiJohnHughesNovel with the intent of it being my next novel.  As I went along, the ghost of the #BigDamnEpic returned.  I built up a head of steam, and then boom.  My stumbling block it turns out was inevitable; I was trying to write the BDE, again.

This led to a pretty bad mood, trust me.  But I finally understood what the novel I had been trying to write all along was - here it was, like it had been there the entire time - and the book started to write itself.  As I said earlier, this had a surprising side-effect.  A couple days in, I was miserable.

The novel - #GhostofBigDamnEpic - will come out next year.  Then it will be done.  A huge chapter in my life closed.  That makes me sad.  It scares me a little.  What next?  What it will be like to not have the security of always falling back on this when other projects fail?  Or I fail them? 

I don't have that luxury anymore.  Elizabeth proved a lot to me.  I can take risks as a writer, and now a publisher.  I can face adversity, and I can overcome it.  I can move on.

Still, the end looms.  It feels as potent as the end of a relationship.  Does anyone else feel this way?  Am I on my own?  Let me know.


Ty Johnston said...

Darby, I know where you're coming from. When I get down to writing my last 2 or 3 chapters, I have to fight locking up. I have to force myself to move ahead, mainly because I'm somewhat sad that my current journey is coming to an end. This is one reason I'm often not happy with my endings, because they feel forced to me.

The truth, though, is that the more novels I write, the easier this gets. It also helps that I often write serial fiction, in that I know some of my characters will be returning in later tales.

On the plus side, the emotional loss near the end of a project can turn positive and sometimes propel me right into the next project. Again, mainly with serial characters.

Darby said...

That's a good point about serial characters. There's less impact there. One of the unexpected bonuses of The Book of Elizabeth was getting to the end and realizing there was more - lots more - and it was nowhere near the end.