A few days ago I wrote about the frustration I was having with my second book in a new mystery series. With every book I’ve written, at about 50 – 60,000 words I hit a wall. It isn’t writer’s block, just a sense of being overwhelmed and in too deep. In fact, in too deep just struck me as the perfect description. It’s like swimming from an island out to the rescue boat and realizing 3/4 of the way there that you’re in trouble. You’ve invested too much to turn around for shore and give it all up, but the deep water where the rescue boat is sitting looks murky and full of unknowns. You begin to doubt that your swimming abilities and your endurance are enough to get you out safely.
Faced with that situation, the logical solution for me would be to float. I would lay on my back in the water, belly up, and move my feet and arms in slow motion, just killing time until I had recuperated enough to face the deep water. Or, until the sharks got me for being so lazy. I’ve been floating in the same place now for about 2 weeks. My writing has languished, my plot feels deep and murky, and I’m afraid if I go forward I’ll end up drowning in details that pull story down, rather than propel it forward.
Finally, over the past two days, I began moving forward again. A big part of my issue was that two of the women in my writer’s group have read two different chapters in various stages. Both of them have eluded to the fact that the main character isn’t personally involved enough with the story. I struggled with my response. My internal excuse was that the Chief of Police can’t be personally involved in every murder. But, the more I thought about their reaction, the more I realized they were right. Maybe she isn’t personally involved, as in a close friend or family member, but the murder/investigation should hit her on a personal level. I knew I had been making mental excuses because I didn’t want to do the hard revision that needed to be done. Once I finally acknowledged that the story needed work, I was able to jump back in again and come up with a plan.
Here’s what I realized. I was trying to artificially involve Josie (Chief of Police) with one of the characters in the book just to ratchet up the tension. The result didn’t work. It felt like a plot trick, which is what it was. I finally realized I needed to ratchet up the potential for disaster for the town – and that tension is genuine for her. Since I made that realization I’ve been able to move forward with the plot – and – I finally figured out the ending. All the pieces fell into place naturally.
For me, sharing my work with others is key. I have to get feedback. I need someone who can see the ocean – not just the patch of deep water I’m treading in. And, I have to make myself think closely about their comments – especially when I get the same comments from more than one reader. Often, a surface level comment will allow me to see bigger problems with the plot. And finally, I often find that the comments readers make are ones that I knew were issues on a subconscious level but just didn’t want to deal with. Having readers not only helps me find my way out of the deep end – but they keep me honest as well.