Last night I attended my Wednesday night cycle class. As Kathleen, the instructor, led us through a series of exercises, one was a “hill climb,” in which we stood up to cycle using higher gears. I ramped up my gears and followed along. Then Kathleen said, “Now sit down and power through it. Don’t touch those gears,” which meant that it was going to be a more challenging ride. Sitting while cycling with a higher gear is much harder than doing it standing, because when you stand, you use your whole body weight.
As I sat down and struggled to “power through it,” it occurred to me that these cycle instructions would also apply to writing. When you first start a writing project—like a novel, you stand up and put your full weight into the ride. It’s not effortless, but it’s easier than at any other point in the writing process. Later, as you get further into your project, you eventually have to sit down and power through it. That means writing when you want to quit and ignoring the urge to get out and enjoy the spring weather. It means writing when you are ready to give up because you feel like you’re an idiot for ever thinking you could write a book. Powering through it is where most people lose it. The hill climb overcomes them and they drop out of the ride. I know. I’ve been there.
While writing my first book, I dropped out a few times. “I can’t do this.” Or, “What was I thinking?” You know, all of those self-recriminating statements we make to ourselves in our lowest moments. Thankfully, I was able to get back on track and finish my first novel, Murder in Madden. Now that I’m writing the second novel in the Enid Blackwell series, I am again facing that same hill climb. It ain’t easy, nor should it be, but I will make it to the top of this hill and finish the second book. I’m confident because I have been up this hilly path before. And I know I can sit down and power through it.
Last week, I met with a book club in Prosperity, South Carolina. What an experience! It was such a pleasure to meet with a group of people who had read the book and who asked very insightful questions. In particular, they were interested in the characters and how they were developed. We had an enlightening conversation about the writing process.
Here’s what I learned from the book club discussion:
- Never underestimate your readers. They may be reading for entertainment, but they put a lot of thought into what they are reading.
- Characters trump plot. With the exception of the occasional (usually male) readers who want nothing but action, most readers want to experience the characters’ lives in an intimate way. They want to understand the characters’ motivations, fears, and joys. As my writing coach often said, plot springs from the characters being in situations. How they react to the situation creates plot. The book club ladies’ interest in character development just confirmed this assertion.
- Readers interpret based on who they are, not on who you are. The French essayist and memoirist Anais Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The same is true for your readers. Their world view and values will determine how they see your characters, no matter what you do. It’s okay.
- Being with this book club reinforced for me why I write—to connect with readers.
I’m looking forward to many more book club discussions about Murder in Madden and its characters, many of whom will return in the second book of the “Enid” series. Please contact me if your club is interested in a personal visit, Skype or phone discussion with the author at one of your club’s meetings.
Before I say anything, I want to acknowledge my writer friends to manage to juggle a full-time job, fulfill family obligations, market their already-published books, and still find time to write. It’s a challenge!
As I begin the second book in the Enid series, a year has passed in the story. If you’ve read the book, you know book one left some unanswered questions to be resolved. Most will be addressed in book 2; others in later books.
I’ve missed Enid, Cade, Jack, and the other character friends I made writing the first book. Reconnecting with them is like going to a reunion and seeing folks you haven’t been in regular contact with. It’s exciting to hear what they’ve been up to. And they are anxious to share the second story with me. I am, after all, just the channel they use.
Stay tuned–more about writing the second book as it progresses.