In “What to do When Your Novel Stalls” (Writer’s Digest, January 2011), John Dufresne revealed that he’d been in my home, at my desk, watching me struggle with my current WIP, The Cat Lady’s Secret. I never saw him, but he must’ve been here. How else could he describe my frustrations so well?
There is no experience quite so humbling and disheartening as the inevitable creative slump that arrives in the middle of writing your novel. It’s the price you pay for your hubris. . . [Y]ou’re starting to panic now because you’ve invested so much time and energy, and you’d hate to see it all go to waste. (It won’t of course, because everything you write today informs everything you will ever write. But that’s no consolation because right now you’re thinking you may never write again.)
Your confidence flags, your resolve weakens. You’re losing faith in your material. You’re intimidated by the magnitude of the undertaking, shamed by your vaulting ambition. What seemed like an exciting and noble endeavor now seems foolish and impossible.
See what I mean? He was here. He witnessed my angst. He understood. And because he offered hope to this despondent woman, he is now my NBF: my New Best Friend.
In the article, he told me to ask myself why I’m bogged down and to write an honest answer. I didn’t have to write it down. I know: once again, I’m solving the problems I’ve presented to my characters before I reach my word count, and that fact paralyzes me. I’m roughly fifteen thousand words from finishing my novel, and thirty thousand words from reaching my goal.
How can a person who loves to talk as much as I do suffer from word count shortage?
I’m at the point where adding any more twists to the novel will cause a major rewrite to set them up. Adding new characters usually helps increase word count, but Cat Lady is already so well populated that another character will add confusion.
About the time I decided to double up on my adverbs and adjectives and toss in pages worth of flowery description, I found John’s article. He offered words of comfort about my first draft: “It will be a failure.”
Of course it will be. It’s a first draft.
Then he encouraged me: “Writers are the ones who don’t let failure stop them.”
Right. I’m a writer. Sometimes I need to be reminded.
Finally, although my problem isn’t one he addressed in his article, he gave me practical advice: Read your manuscript from the beginning and “look for moments there that are begging for embellishment, exploration and resonance, for opportunities that you wrote into the scenes but have yet to exploit.”
Embellish! Exploit! Yes! I can do that! Explore! Add Resonance! Yes, yes, yes!
Although most of Part 1 in the novel is as perfect as I can get it, this Part 2 is definitely rough. I’ve concentrated so much on finishing this thing that I haven’t gone back for any other reason than to see where I left off. There is no doubt in my mind I can find places to fatten up.
So, John, if you see this, accept my heart-felt thanks, and if you send me your address, I’ll mail you your favorite bottle of cheap wine. Better yet, come on out and we’ll clink our glasses together.