Pep Talk from Deanna Raybourn

Welcome, writers, to the place I call Very Nearly the End.

By now, NaNoWriMo has taught you that writing is not for the faint of heart. You must be stalwart and brave, like pioneers of old, unafraid of uncharted lands or crossing vast frontiers. It was exciting at first, wasn’t it? Preparing for the journey, stocking supplies, counting down the days until the start of the great undertaking. That enthusiasm would have carried you through the first weeks, and even the pitfalls along the way might have seemed like thrilling opportunities for adventure. But now you have come to the bleak no-man’s land just before the last great push to the end. It is barren and empty and it seems as if no one has ever passed this way. Except for every other writer who has come before you. This place lurks along the journey of each book for all of us. Here we hate our characters, our plot is mundane, and our prose is as flat and unlovely as the landscape. Be watchful; it’s dangerous, this place. I have heard of writers who lacked courage and who turned back to safety, never to return. They simply stopped being writers because they could not find their way across this nothingness. That is not an option for me, and I don’t believe it is an option for you. You have come too far, weary travelers! And there is a way across, I promise.

The solution has two parts. The first is to be a little selfish. At this point in the book, a writer is a bit like an invalid emerging from a life-threatening illness. We are fragile and wan, and people will remark that we have grown thin and pale. We startle easily and we tire quickly. This is when we have to be kind to ourselves. If there is someone who can cook for us and bring us cups of tea and rub our feet, excellent. If there are children to be attended to, they ought to be settled onto the sofa next to us—or better yet, the bed—and told to read something soothing to us. Phone calls and e-mails and chores that can be neglected, ought to be. A few hours of cosseting are often just the thing to restore us. If that fails, we must employ more drastic measures. We must get right away and leave the book behind. Some writers take up big-game hunting, others like to sail or climb mountains. I shop for shoes, the higher the heel the better. (Fiction is more easily subdued when one is well-shod.) You might try a massage or a pick-up basketball game, anything to change your perspective. When you return with flushed cheeks and bright eyes, you will be ready to work again.

That is when you move on to the second half of the cure: you must sit down and be quiet. It sounds like an admonishment, but believe me, it isn’t. Think of it as a gentle reminder instead. I know, writing every day is challenging. But it is also incredibly easy. When you write every day, you are always in the story. There is never a period of reconnecting with your characters, of trying to remember what mood you were attempting to create the last time you worked. And by working every day, you engage your subconscious in a way that simply isn’t possible when you keep a more whimsical schedule. There is no need to summon the muse because there is no time for the fickle little strumpet to go anywhere. I become so immersed in my story that I seldom write more than an hour a day, but I am typing the entire time, with no breaks to think or to wonder where the story is headed. I write flat out because the other 23 hours I have been thinking about the book while going about the rest of my life. (That includes the time I’m asleep. I seldom wake up without thinking of the scene I’m preparing to write. When I sit down to work, I’m essentially taking dictation from myself.)

Now, for being quiet. This is by far the more difficult of the two, but I have learned through painful experience this one, incontrovertible truth, and I am going to put it in italics so you will know I mean it: you only have one chance to tell your story for the very first time. One chance. Do you want the first time you tell it, when it is imbued with all of the passion and enthusiasm and verve you possess, to be when you’re chatting up the UPS guy? Or your mother? Or your cat? Trust me, you don’t. You want that first time to be on paper, so it’s there forever, recorded in all its juicy, rich, living color. When you have already described your brilliant twist or your genius plot device or your protagonist’s crippling character flaw, you have killed some of your own thrill, whether you realize it or not. Yes, it’s an ego rush of the very best kind to watch someone’s eyes widen when you tell your tale, but the thrill is very short-lived, and when you go to put that twist on paper, it is just a little bit stale. The more times you tell it, the duller it becomes. Like a bottle of opened champagne, the fizz has faded, but when all of that wonderful effervescence is bottled up, seething and bubbling, you have one choice: work or explode. That last delicious burst of creativity is what will see you through to the end.

So, be kind to yourselves. Be quiet and be seated, and be ready for the heady rush of completion because you are almost there!

Deanna Raybourn

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