Friday, June 15, 2012

A Writer's Journal -- Revelations while driving

I've taken a few months off from writing. Sometimes I feel guilty. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. I blame my hiatus on going back to full time work. Granted, dedicating 40+ hours to a job does cut into writing time. Then there's working out, attempting to have a social life, and traveling back to New York to see my family. 

Yesterday, after filling in for someone for the morning on my day off, after going to the gym, after doing some freelance work, after taking care of some promotion, I drove down to New Mexico to meet an old friend for dinner. 

The drive takes about an hour, and I had time to think about the novel I've been working on--the novel I've begun and put on hold.

 And something amazing happened: I had a revelation about the story. I realized I had to take it in a different direction. 

My protagonist needs to outgrow the current love-interest, and this will cause conflict. Inner and outer conflict is a writer's best friend. Liz Engstrom taught me that, and I've found it to be true. I don't know if this idea would have surfaced if I hadn't taken some time away from the book. I would have continued on without having time for it to surface, and I would have been so far into the book that I'd hesitate to make such a major change. 

This makes me think about a letter I received from a reader. He complained that he didn't like the ending of Hetaera. It's the first book of the Agathon's Daughter trilogy so I leave the reader with some questions that I hope will draw her into the next book. This reader said he felt no need to read the second (as yet unwritten) book because he knew how the story would unfold. I politely thanked him for reading my book, and said I was sorry that he didn't care for the ending. I neglected to ask him how he imagined the story would unfold. I wanted to ask, because I have only a vague idea of where the story's going. Since receiving his letter, I've often though it might have been helpful to have his guidance. But, since he didn't like the way he imagined the story, I thought it best if I didn't have his ideas rolling around my mind. 

In any case, making discoveries about a story, watching characters unfold before my eyes, gives me great pleasure as a writer. Some of my best writing occurs when I step out of my own way and allow the story to reveal itself. I think that's why some of my best ideas emerge when I'm driving--especially those long isolated roads that run through Colorado and New Mexico; they unfold like a clean sheet of paper, and I just have to follow them.