The life cycle of a writer can be as predictable as a frog’s
by Ruth Harris
A glimmer of an idea sparks in the writer’s mind.
You’re in the shower, just waking up, cooking dinner, mopping the floor, or on the way to the supermarket, dentist, or a hot date with The One. It’s the idea that comes out of the blue. The crystal-clear flash of bright light when the plot, characters and setting arrive fully formed. Rare but lovely.
1. Inspiration or, the Aha! Moment.
- Sometimes the flash comes from another book, a newspaper article, a conversation with a friend or a fight with a frenemy.
- Perhaps it’s a line or a scene from a movie, a tv show, or a podcast.
- Maybe it’s a snatch of overheard conversation.
- But it can happen anytime and anywhere.
- Wherever it strikes, you feel the unmistakable zing of inspiration. Might be clear, might be blurry and hazy, but it’s powerful.
- It hangs around and hangs around, and nags at you.
- It’s the stalker, the one you can’t get rid of. Maybe it takes its place in a crowd of other, hazy, half formed notions, but sooner or later, it’s going to elbow out the rest.
You resist, you doubt, you rip it to shreds, but you are powerless.
“Write me! Write me!”
Insistent and at times obnoxious, it tugs at your sleeves, wakes you up at night, intrudes where unwanted, and barges in at the most inopportune times.
You have no choice and raise your hands and surrender. Time to get to work.
You open a new Word document or set up a new Scrivener Project.
And begin to type or to dictate. It’s the beginning of the life cycle of a writer.
2. The Terrible Twos.
That Aha! Moment has now grown to the toddler stage. You’ve got the beginning of a rough draft or a half-finished outline, but like a toddler learning to walk, you’re unsteady on your feet. You make mistakes and misjudge your ability. And bump into a table or chair and fall down.
- Sometimes you cry.
- Other times you blame the chair or table. “Bad chair!” “Bad table!”
- Like a toddler, you don’t give up and you pick yourself up.
- You stay with that initial glimpse of inspiration, even when it morphs into something you never anticipated. Something much better. At least, right now you think so.
- You cross your fingers, keep on keeping on, bumping into furniture, giving up, trying again and again until you steady yourself on your feet, find your balance, and learn to walk.
- And then to run.
3. The Can-do Kid.
That unsteady-on-his/her-feet toddler morphs into the bright-eyed kid filled with energy, ideas, and a great attitude.
It’s full speed ahead.
You’re on a streak. You’re zooming along at a thousand words an hour. The sky’s the limit. And you’re the pilot, soaring high.
- Every idea seems to be a great idea.
- The characters take on lives of their own.
- You can barely keep up with them.
- You’re at maximum velocity.
- Words write themselves.
- Pages pile up.
- The going is good.
- Not just good, but great!
Until it isn’t.
4. Rebel Without A Cause.
Almost overnight (or so it seems) the bright, energetic, can-do kid has turned into a sullen, surly, snotty, pimply-faced wiseass brat.
They Know It All. They think.
This is the stage when they have a dumb, nasty, sarcastic response to every effort and, no matter what you do or how hard you try, they do the exact opposite. They won’t listen. They won’t pay attention, and they certainly won’t do what you want them to do.
- There’s drama, bad breakups, sexy make-ups and more false starts.
- You are fed up with them. With the lack of cooperation, the complete lack of respect—after all, bringing them to life was your idea. Wasn’t it?
- Who are they to give you such a hard time?
- You are fed up. Have Had It with them. You are beginning to think that maybe that great idea isn’t so great.
- You are on the verge of kicking them out of the house, sending them to military school, or hitting the delete button and sending them to a dank, moldy, dismal cyber dungeon in a galaxy far, far away. Permanently.
But just then, just when you are at the point of giving up, they do something utterly amazing. Something you would never have thought of yourself. Something that makes you grateful for them and their existence.
And you keep going.
5. Maturity. Whatever that is.
This is the stage when your gauzy fantasies meet reality—and survive.
You accept (finally!) the fact that writing a book is actual work. Sometimes it’s fun, but other times it’s about as much fun as laundry.
You admit that your editor isn’t an ogre intent on destroying your genius, but that s/he is on your side and working to make you and your book better.
At this stage, you know you’re going to have to suck it up.
You face the Everest of rethinking, rewriting and revision sans (too much) b*tching and complaining. Or, as it’s called here in NYC, kvetching.
- You rewrite sentences and reorganize chapters.
- You discard the clunkers.
- And cut and streamline.
- Add and enhance.
- You delete your darlings without a twinge because at this stage you know that other, better, darlings lie just ahead.
6. The Mid-Life Crisis.
Ooooops. Here you go again.
You face the mirror. Those delightful laugh lines have turned into—say the word!—wrinkles.
You wish there were magic pills and potions to cure the aches and pains of plot glitches and character issues.
Maybe you sign up for a face lift (a new cover) or a new diet and exercise regime in the form of another round of editing and revision.
You tear your hair (what’s left of it) out and wonder why science hasn’t come up with hip replacements for arthritic plots or worn-out tropes.
But you have faced lumps and bumps along the way before and survived. At this stage you’ve developed a realistic view of what it takes to write and publish a book.
You’ve been there. Done that. A lot more than once.
In fact, however unwelcome, blocks and glitches seem familiar by now. By now you remember that you’ve been stuck before and that, every time, you’ve figured out a way to get unstuck.
You read the previous chapter to get back on track.
7. Deja Vu All Over Again: Just Part of the Life Cycle of a Writer.
Stuck? What else is new?
You read the whole damn book again. From the beginning. Because you still can’t figure out where you went wrong.
That recalcitrant character who just won’t do what s/he needs to do? You change his/her sex.
You send him/her to rehab and s/he emerges with a new personality.
- The liar becomes the truth-teller.
- The truth-teller becomes the bad guy.
- A bad guy turns into a good guy.
- Or vice versa.
- Now you know enough that you have to be shameless. You no longer have “darlings.” You have learned that every decision can be reversed and that every mistake can be corrected.
- So you can cut without crying.
- And have learned to put your ego aside—at least when it comes to making your book the best it can be.
- And you know by now that the book is boss and that you’re just along for the ride.
- You’ve figured out which genre(s) work best for you. You can’t write a Western for love or loot. But you do have a real knack for Romantic Suspense.
But you still haven’t figured out how to make writing a book easy.
Because it isn’t.
No matter how experienced you are.
As an old-time pulp writer of hundreds of books once told me: “Each one is a pain in the ass. In a different way.”
Words of wisdom, because each book is different and each book will present new—and different—dilemmas.
At least this time around, because, next time, it’s going to be different.
8. New Hope For The Dead.
Savvy writers know better than to let a minor detail like death stop the royalties from coming in. Writers like Lawrence Sanders, V.C. Andrews, and Robert Parker continue to turn out new books. So do the dearly deceased Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, and Robert Ludlum. Ian Fleming died in 1964, but since then at least 28 James Bond novels have been published.
Cynics might ask: Did death improve their writing?
Still, no doubt somewhere, some writer, is penning a new Shakespeare play which, to the astonishment of scholars the world over, will be “found” in an abandoned barn/great-aunt-Hortensia’s-
From what I hear via the publishing grapevine—another stellar example of the energetic undead—dead writers still struggle with character, plot, setting, the inciting event, and the perfect ending.
- They piss and moan about their agents and publishers.
- And complain about their covers, advances, ad budgets, royalties.
- They whine about the size of their—get your mind out of the gutter—print orders.
In other words, as the French say, plus ça change plus c’est la meme chose.
(If you’re a writer.)
by Ruth Harris (@RuthHarrisBooks) April 25, 2021
What about you scriveners? Where are you in the life cycle of a writer? Have you ever had a book in the terrible twos? Or sent it to military school? How do you feel about books by dead people?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
“WOW! WHAT A STORY!”
“A master storyteller coaxed me through a maze of fascinating, brilliant, tragic, and heartwarming twists and turns, and left me feeling uplifted and satisfied. ZURI slides to the top of my favorite books of 2020!” —Sue Coletta, award-winning, bestselling author
They rescue endangered animals, but can they rescue each other?
Renny Kudrow, Director of the Kihali animal orphanage in Kenya, is a renowned elephant whisperer, a brilliant translator of animal communication. But human communication?
Not so much, thinks Starlite Higgins, the wildlife vet who Renny thinks is not up to the job.
Renny is prickly, remote, critical, and Starlite, accustomed to success, but who almost causes Zuri’s rescue to fail, is unable to win his approval.
When Renny and Starlite must work together to save the life of the baby rhino fatally wounded by poachers, they must face the shocking secrets they both hide—and the attraction they can no longer deny.
Meet the brave baby rhino, Zuri (the word means “beautiful” in Swahili), the caring elephants, Doris and Maisie, who protect her, and Boozie, a mischievous young goat who saves Zuri’s life and becomes her best friend.
Get to know Ian Stewart-Montgomery, the witty, elegant half-Kenyan, half-English photo safari guide, the Kenyan wildlife authorities, string bean-skinny Jomo and strong, athletic Muthengi, and all the other human and animal friends who find an enchanted home at beautiful Kihali.
ZURI will appeal to readers who love animals, adventure, and uplifting, inspiring stories about second chances.
ZURI is suitable for a wide range of readers and contains no sex or cursing.