Friday, August 23, 2019

Breakdowns and Breakthroughs--The Sine Wave of Book Writing

One of my coaching clients, a very skilled writer, wrote me a few weeks ago about the temper tantrum she was having with her book.  It's in revision stage, a novel, and a good one--I've read parts of it and I was hooked on the characters, plot, and premise.  But she's been working on it for five years and she's tired.  "I'm going to toss it," she said, and I half-believed her, so I sent her a plea to wait.  Set the thing aside for a day, two, a week if she could.  Do something else.  Something completely unconnected to her book.  Then decide if it was ready to be scrapped.

Books are long events.  Most of my best ones (the ones I still love, ten years later, and the ones I still hear from readers about) took me through many breakdowns.  Often, I wanted to just stop.  Take up the violin instead.  Anything but writing.

Failures, and breakdowns, are part of the growth process.  We face ourselves and our limitations, or the limitations of our story.  It's no fun to discover holes in your plot or places where your premise falls apart due to lack of research. Or when you get feedback on a flat line of dialogue, and forget the good ones a page ago.

A passionate gardener (read: crazed), I note my gardening successes and failures in a wall calendar.  Some years, it's depressing how much I lose or kill.  Squirrels ate all my strawberries and every peach from my three peach trees last summer, and I wanted to just stop the whole discouraging process.  But then I see a small flower growing in a forgotten corner and I remember it's all part of the plan.  Breakdowns and breakthroughs, in equal measure.

Besides marking my progress or lack of it, my gardening calendar also delivers inspiring quotes. One seemed apt for this post:

"For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone . . . . To someone who doesn't understand growth, it would like like complete destruction. " (C. Occoli)

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