Kate Douglas on Writing
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jun 25 2008
Why We Do What We Do . . .
About a year ago, I finished a manuscript I’d been working on for about three months. The story, Wolf Tales VI, was just released, but it was due in my editor’s hands on June 1 of 2007. It didn’t get there. For some reason, the story would NOT come together the way I wanted it to, and I struggled for weeks with the first three chapters. I asked my editor for a month’s extension, and she very graciously allowed it, since I was no closer to finishing the book on June 1 than I’d been three months earlier.
Disgusted, I set it aside and took a couple of days off. It had been a hectic year, what with moving and the remodeling we’re doing on the new house, my husband’s retirement, and a little incident that included me almost getting myself killed when a tree came down where I was standing—along with a writing schedule that meant finishing eleven novels and novellas in just twenty short months. And no, I can’t blame Jessica for that one—I said I could do it, and I did, but it wasn’t nearly as easy as I’d thought it would be!
I’d forgotten that life often gets in the way of the best intentions.
Taking a break from my story was the best thing I could have done. Once I stepped back from the project, I was able to see what was wrong. Letting go of my preconceived hero wasn’t easy, but I suddenly realized the problem—I was writing the wrong character’s story. It wasn’t the hero’s story at all—it was the secondary character who needed a voice. I’d been trying to force him into the background, and he was having none of it. Once I gave Oliver the freedom to exist at center stage, my book took off. I completed Wolf Tales VI in about three weeks, and when I went back and reread it before sending it to my editor, I realized I had written a book I could really be proud of. It’s got a great plot, it’s sexy, and it’s not anything anyone will expect.
It made me think about the process of writing, the fact that we go into a story with an idea, but we all reach our goal in a totally unique manner. For writers like me who don’t plot in advance, who don’t outline or even write a detailed synopsis, finding the plot and getting to know my characters can be a serendipitous adventure. It’s a trip I absolutely love. Once I get to know my characters, they literally take over my head, and I’ve had to learn not to fight them. They write their own stories, and I never quite know what’s coming next, but that’s part of the process—my process—that makes writing such a joy for me. It’s the excitement of discovery, the feeling that I will always find a surprise around the next corner.
We all do it differently, but somehow we all manage to find our way through a beginning, to a middle, and on to an end. There are no set rules, but for those of us who write, who absolutely have to write, the journey is as much the joy as is the moment when we hold our completed work in our hands.
Which is, I guess, the point of this post—a reminder to think of the reason why you write, whether it’s for publication or your own personal fulfillment. Don’t ever let go of the joy you find in the words, the thrill of a new character, the utter satisfaction of pulling all the threads of a convoluted plot together and knowing it’s perfect. We’re a very lucky group, those of us who call ourselves writers. We can create new worlds with our words and give life to imaginary characters who wouldn’t otherwise exist without us. It doesn’t get much better than that.