Saturday, August 04, 2018

Weekend Guest Tracy Clark

I'm delighted to welcome Tracy Clark, this weekend's guest blogger.
Tracy's novel Broken Places, featuring former Chicago Police detective turned PI Cass Raines, was released in May 2018.  Borrowed Time, book two in the Raines series, will be published next year. Tracy can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and on her website

Take it away, Tracy!

The Writer's Mountain

I’m neck-deep in rewrites for the third novel in my Cass Raines PI series. It’s going well. Today. Tomorrow? Who knows? That’s what I want to talk about. The writing process. That mercurial, quicksilver-ish, sometimey thing that blooms like a hothouse orchid one day and withers on the vine like a desiccated strawberry the next.

Maybe you guys are used to the ebb and flow, the ups and downs, but I’m only two and a half books in, so I’m constantly amazed that this writing thing isn’t getting any easier. I mean, you’d think it’d get easier. You’ve written two books, you got it done, so why is book three just as hair-pullingly impossible? Where’s my bell lap? The end of the rainbow? At what point can a writer say with confidence, “I got this, people. You need another book? No problemo. I know how to do this. Bam. There you go. Another book. You’re welcome, world!”

I’ve been thinking about the writing game a lot lately while muddling my way through book three, wondering where I took a wrong turn, knowing I’ll need to go back and save myself from embarrassment. Writing, I have decided, is a lot like mountain-climbing. Stick with me here.
The valiant climber of mountains starts off with the vigor of Sir Edmund Hillary—new rope, strong enough to suspend an elephant, at least for a time, new climbing shoes, those fancy little fingerless gloves that look so cool on Tom Cruise in those Mission Impossible films. The brave, dauntless climber is fresh, committed, intrepid, determined eyes fixed on the mountain in front of her. The summit is the goal, and she means to get there by hook or by crook. She starts up. All’s good. Then the mountain gets steep, the footholds iffy. Too late to turn back now, you’re up too high. The rope begins to fray. You call on Jesus. Those kickass climbing shoes get worn down and the gloves, cool on the car ride up, don’t do a thing for your bleeding, blistered fingers. You climb. You struggle. You retrace your steps when you can’t find a way through. Where is Tenzing Norgay, you ask. But don’t look down, don’t think about your trembling knees.

Somehow, sweat drenched and spent, you reach the top. You’ve made it. You did not give up. You did not falter, well, maybe you faltered a little bit, but though the effort was not graceful, you clawed your way to the end. You can now stand there at the summit, arms held high in victory, and breathe in the smell of sweet success. Surely nothing will ever be more difficult than this climb. You have arrived. You conquered the mountain!

Then you turn around and behold a vast mountain range—mountain after mountain after mountain. Your arms fall to your side. The smile of victory melts away and reality sets in and sinks to the pit of your stomach like a paving stone. You’ve climbed this mountain. There are dozens more. You will have to blister your fingers again, scrape your knees on jagged rock, fray the rope. Again.
That’s writing.

When you conquer one mountain (one book), the victory lap is short, because the next mountain looms. I’m new to the climbing thing, but I’ve already been asked more than once how I do it. How do you write a book? My answer is simple. I have no idea. I just climb, and I keep climbing till I run out of rock. The fact that I waltz knowingly up to the next mountain and do it all again, knowing what I know, is either a true testament to my mental instability or a confirmation that I was born to be a writer, just like Michael Phelps was born to swim or Muhammad Ali was born to knock a guy’s lights out in twelve rounds, or less. I write because I can’t not write.

Some days I write like the wind, scampering up that mountain like a freaking ibex, some days I waste paper and time and shave years off my life expectancy. That’s writing too.

I’ll eventually get to the top of the mountain I’m climbing now, but it won’t be seamless. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when I’m done, though, and, hopefully, the story will be a good one. I just wish that reaching the top of Writer Mountain worked like a video game where you beat the challenge and then are powered-up with magic apples that make you a writing god, an expert, Superman. Maybe for some it does? Hope springs eternal. For me, I’m still writing myself into corners and getting myself out. I procrastinate. I write five pages, and then tear up two. Mountains are treacherous.

I’m sitting here now writing this blog post, eyeing Judge Judy on television. Some woman bought her new boyfriend of less than three weeks a car, and then he promptly broke up with her and now she wants her money back. I have pages to get to, but I’m not going anywhere until I find out what Judge Judy has to say about the whole thing. That’s writing too. It doesn’t take much to derail a work in progress. I’m also wondering about Tenzing Norgay. Wouldn’t it be great if every writer had a Tenzing Norgay?

Anyway, wish me luck. I wish the same for all of my fellow writers. Up the mountain we go!


Delia Pitts said...

What a lyrical description of the writing process! Took my breath away: laughing out loud, then groaning in real pain. Thank you, Tracy, for getting the writer's challenge right. And for proving through your own fiction, that it's worth the climb.

Unknown said...

Thanks so much, Delia, fellow climber of steep mountains.

Thomas Kies said...

I'm working on the third book. You're right, this is hard work, Tracy. You'd think we'd have this book writing stuff down cold.

Tracy said...

Maybe one day, Thomas.

Eileen Goudge said...

An accurate description of the writing process. For me it's like Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill again and again. Same boulder, same freaking hill. But then one day, it's a different boulder, same hill but at least you have a finished book to show for your efforts, which is proof it can be done. I'm on about the hundredth trip up the hill with the boulder I'm rolling now, but eventually I'll get the book done.