Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Joy of the Hunt

By Martha Reed

Everybody talks about the process of writing but I don’t hear many folks talking about the fun of it. I have to think that most writers to find fun in it or at least satisfaction because otherwise why would you do it? It certainly doesn’t pay much, any applause you get is fleeting and writing has to be the most obscure way to get close to fame that I can think of besides singing on a CD of Gregorian chants. So why do it?

I know why I do and I have done enough of it two recognize two significant stages in the process: 1) about halfway through after I’ve got the rough manuscript and I’ve started the actual writing bit, filling in the transitions, honing the characters and building a plot. This is the most workmanlike portion of the process but I know from experience that I’m really into it when I hit this stage – there’s no going back now and 2) about fifty pages out when I can see the finish line and I realize: holy crap! I’m actually going to finish this thing. The corollary here of course is the hopeful tag line: and it’s really good!

Luckily for me I hit item #2 last Saturday. I thought I was finished with my manuscript back in May but I went to the PennWriters conference, met a real old school homicide detective and realized halfway through his scotch at the bar that my police Lieutenant was way to wimpy to stand up to a real investigation so it was back to the drawing board. I don’t complain about the extra work because I am thankful for the insights because it made my character better, and that’s always a good thing. So I sat back down and started plowing and low and behold I finished Chapter Twenty and the end is in sight. (And I really like it).

The other odd thing I keep going back to is where the story ideas come from. I do read a lot and I know my tired old brain is processing because some nights I can’t turn it off. What gets me is those moments when I open a notebook from 2003 and I have to scribbled items: This one is about John. He needs to investigate. And Watch the Whistler. Now what freaks me out about these notes is that yes, John needed to investigate but how did I know that in 2003 five years before I started writing the dang thing and Watch the Whistler who for the first 200 pages of my new novel is a shadow character but of course he’s the one who pops out in Chapter 20 and focuses the entire novel.

Shaazooey. Sometimes this stuff freaks me out a little. Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever found a note to yourself that now has a meaning it could never have had when you wrote it? Do tell. Curious minds want to know.

PS. How about this one? I set out to write 500 words and when I finished the sentence above I ran word count and it’s exactly 500 words without any editing. Okay, I’m going to stop now.


PatRemick said...


Nope, never happens to me. I guess this makes me boring... or far less creative than you!!

Joyce said...

I don't have notes like that, but sometimes I'll think I have to go back and add such and such a clue because something changed in the plot--like a different person is the killer, or a major plot point changed--and the clue is already there. My subconscious knew of the change before I put it on paper.

Karen in Ohio said...

As is often said, the subconscious mind is very powerful.

Cue the Twilight Zone music!

Martha Reed said...

I love it when it happens! (Although it scares me sometimes). Like making a mistake in a painting that turns out to be better than anything you could have planned. Serendipity, I guess?