Writing Tip #83

Just when you think you have nothing left — PUSH. Some of my strongest memories of writing Baby Grand involved intense bouts of self-doubt. In graduate school, where I wrote the first third of the manuscript, there was one point where I had completed Chapters 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6.

My professor asked, “Well, what about Chapter 3?”

Truth be told, Chapter 3 was scaring the hell out of me. I had planned it to be the first chapter involving the police investigation where the reader meets the detective assigned to the case. And after YEARS of watching Law & Order, I felt like I knew nothing about police investigations, and there was absolutely no way I could write a convincing scene (in fact, if there had been a way to avoid doing a police investigation at all in this novel, I would have found it).

I remember my professor’s confusion, like she didn’t know what I was talking about. “Just write it,” she said, dismissively, and went on to the next student.

That night, I went home and stared at a blank page. Just write it? I thought. I just can’t. I can’t. I can’t. And then I started typing, writing anything that came to me to get some random ideas on paper, and then going over and over that writing (which is the way I write — constant editing) until I sat there and looked at it with amazement. Gosh, it’s not terrible, after all, I thought.

More than a year later, during the revision stage of Baby Grand, it was my agent who would give me that gentle push, who questioned and probed and would say, “This doesn’t ring true” or “I think you should delve more here.” Delve more? I’d pace the living room floor in frustration, confident that there was nothing more to say on the matter. I just can’t, can’t, can’t. And then I’d sit down and try, and not only did I find out that I could, but that her instincts were right and made Baby Grand a better novel.

There are probably hundreds of additional instances during the writing and rewriting of Baby Grand when there was nobody to push me but myself. Nights spent in a dark, quiet house alone with my laptop, staring out the window at the rising sun, battling those self-doubt demons who said I couldn’t hack it, that what Baby Grand needed I couldn’t give it. During those times, I didn’t give up. I cried, of course, and said things like “I can’t do this” and “I have no talent,” but deep down I knew that I could and that I did. I found the strength and determination to push myself when I thought I had nothing left. Just when I thought, I have absolutely NO idea what to write here, I would find it somehow.

Those are probably some of the sweetest moments of writing, when you sit back and stare at the screen and think, Wow, I really COULD do this, after all. And as much as the temptation is always there to throw in the towel, I wouldn’t miss those moments for the world.

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4 thoughts on “Writing Tip #83

  1. This was a great post! It just shows that we can all use that small little push, even if we are in a horrible ‘I can’t do this!’ phase. Thanks for sharing, Dina.

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