Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Muses to the Rescue




I am putting the final touches on the manuscript of my seventh Alafair Tucker mystery. This has been a b***ch of a book to write. For a long time I wasn't sure I was going to be able to pull it off. And yet miraculously it seems to have all worked out. My first reader is looking it over now, so we shall see how successfully I managed. I go through this every single time. I'm never sure I can do it, yet somehow I do.

If I have learned anything after all this time, it is that the process I undergo to finish every book is unique, even if it’s the nth in a series and is populated with characters you know like the back of your hand. Each book requires something different from you. Some flow out, some are dragged out screaming. Some take more research than others. You always have to respect your reader’s intelligence. Avid mystery readers are often more savvy about how mystery plots are routinely constructed than the writer is, so you’ve really got to be imaginative and on your toes to fool them. And fool them in a logical way. And how you as the author manage to get that done that for each book is totally different from all the others you've written. I don't know why.

Now, like many working authors, I occasionally present workshops and classes on how to develop character, construct a mystery, how to plot and how to add suspense to a novel. I have a system all worked out, and it's neat and tidy and easy to understand. The only problem is that I seldom follow my own advice.

I tell my classes that I generally write the first draft from beginning to end, skipping over the places where I find myself stuck so that I can just get it down. That's the dream, anyway. The reality is that I've been known to make books like I make quilts, out of patchwork pieces that I sew together and hope in the end I have a pattern. And when it comes to the "skipping over" part, I have to admit that I have been known to spend day after unproductive day picking at some plot problem as though I'm trying to unravel the Gordian knot with a straight pin.

I advise the writers in my seminars that "writing is rewriting", which I believe to my bones. And yet it is not unknown for me to polish a section of story for a week before moving on.

Write every day without fail, I say. Skipping even a day makes it difficult to pick up where you left off. Excellent advice. If only life never intruded. Or if only I weren't such an undisciplined slob.

The only thing I can always count on when I write a book is that whether I deserve it or not, the Muses always come to my rescue and I end up with a finished mystery novel that hangs together in an interesting and logical way. I don't know how.


1 comment:

Jessica McCann said...

Thanks so much for this post, Donis. It's exactly what I needed to read this week, as I struggle through my current novel in progress, wondering how on earth I ever wrote and published a novel before. Your words are a comfort and inspiration.