Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Last Things First

A week or so ago, I sat down all revved up to finish the manuscript I've been working on since January. I'm excited about this story--I'm stretching some writing muscles with it, trying out some new things. And like any new endeavor, it's not without some aches and pains. (I went back to the gym for the first time in two months yesterday too--so I know whereof I speak regarding sore muscles.)

But, I've been enjoying, for the most part, this journey. My first novel came to me with a clearly defined final scene. So in writing it I was filling in the arc from A to B, but I always had that final scene pulling me forward. It was comforting. With Unexpected Grace, that final scene has been much more nebulous. I'm telling the story (or is it stories?) through two narrative lines, one in the present (2002-03) and one in the past (1958-1971). Two very different narrators, but they're connected. But, I'd spent lots of time dinking around at the 50,000+ word mark. I didn't want to admit that I was stuck, so I revised the heck out of the first two-thirds of the book. (Yup. 2/3s. I write on the short side. My goal is always to get to 75,000 words.) I wasn't moving forward, though and was getting frustrated. I talked to one of my agent's readers who acts as an editor (God bless her!). We worked through much of my wanderings. But her final piece of advice hit home the hardest. "Finish it. Get to the end." I knew she was right. I needed to finish the damn book before I could start revising and polishing and rearranging. All I'd been doing for a few weeks was, as my husband would say, rearranging the deck chairs on The Titanic. (Not that he'd ever say that to me about my writing.)

So, I told myself, get to the end. I sat down two days after Labor Day to write. I now knew how it was going to end. I was excited about it. I had those final scenes in mind. I just needed to write 20,000 words before I could write the last 5,000. But those 20,000 seemed insurmountable.

That's when I took a flying leap and went right to the end. And it worked. Amazingly well. The ending scenes kept getting longer (that's good) and sharper (even better). I now know what will and what won't work between what came before and what comes last.

So, sometimes, it seems, in writing and in life, it's good to break a few rules, shake things up, get out of the comfort zone. Eat dessert first. Write the end before you've finished the middle.

Now, I need to head back out to the porch (we're having beautiful fall writing weather) and finish things off. I have to kill a character I adore, and I get to help another character figure out some big things about herself.

I love this stuff. All that middle mumbo-jumbo? It doesn't seem so daunting now.

15 comments:

Larramie said...

What appears crystal clear to me, Judy, is that to reach The End you need to know the end. And, upon reflection, that makes perfect sense because without a destination, your characters were left to wander.

Enjoy the porch and fasten your seatbelt in preparation of your final approach to landing.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Thanks Larramie--it sometimes does feel like a wild ride . . . but I love it!

kristen said...

Judy, I can't wait to see (read!!) what you are up to. I'm so glad to hear the story is finding its way...

And glad to see you back here. I've been thinking of you and wondering how things were going.

Carleen Brice said...

I hate middles. Beginnings and endings are much easier for me to write. Must be my Gemini-ness.

Congratulations on finding your groove again!

P.S.
My ARCs came today! :-)

Lisa said...

I'm so happy for you and also happy to know that my own experiment with writing some future scenes instead of going straight through in completely linear fashion may not be as crazy as I thought! I can't wait for this one!

Therese said...

This is such a thoughtful post. (I linked it in a post yesterday eve but forgot to come back and say so!)

I'm glad to know you found a way around the problem. It seems to me that writing something, even if you're going to alter it or even scrap it later, is much better than trying to solve it by plain old thinking about it.

(And btw, did you see my email about the AREs?)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Kristen--It's good to be back. It seems like when I'm stuck in my MS, my blog posts get a little stuck too. All sigsn bode well for good writing days ahead.

Carleen--Yes, it can be the middles where things bog down, but that's also where all the necessary stuff happens. And SO COOL about your ARCs!

Lisa--I'm beginning to believe there's no one right way to write a story--I guess I always thought each writer had his or her own method, but now I'm learning that perhpas each book has its own plan instead.

Therese--So true--putting the pen to the paper is what needs to be done. Sometimes, when I'm writing slop, I'll even write "ick" in the margin to remind myself I won't be keeping this but it's getting me to where I need to be. Oh, and I e-mailed you about the other.

Ello said...

This is so weird! I just posted a comment at Therese's blog about how I know I must be odd because I wrote my conclusion first and then wrote the story around it all backwards. Then I clicked on your link out of curiousity and I find that you are posting exactly on this topic! I feel a writerly connection to you! I like writing endings first and I know it isn't the norm, but it definitely works for me! And I love eating dessert first! ;o)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Ello--So glad you popped over. I have to ask--does your ending ever change after you've written the rest? I often find that where I think a book is going to go meanders away in a different direction as the characters reveal themselves more and more to me.

And of course, if the dessert's good, you've got to make sure you have room for it!

Carleen Brice said...

"the middle is where the necessary stuff happens" - very true. maybe that's why the middle is usually so hard for me.

Ello said...

WEll, I've only done this twice so I don't know if my answer will change later on, but the fundamental ending did not change, just the way I revealed it did, if you know what I mean. I think I realized that how I set it up originally was not in keeping with the character that ended up being developed. That is my WIP which I will be querying soon. My first ever book I started working on (which was a history based on the Three Kingdoms history of ancient Korea) I completely outlined and wrote halfway when I stopped to work on my current WIP because some publishing bigwig I knew told me I could never get an obscure book on Korean history published as a debut novel. I am going back to that one (spent 5 years researching it!) as soon as I"m done with my WIP. But in that work also the original concept of my ending is still in place, but the mechanics around it will probably change.

Sorry for the long post, but it is such an interesting discussion point! I'm going to go look for your book. It sounds fascinating!

The Writers' Group said...

Judy, you are so brave to set out on the road without knowing where you're going. I would be lost. I so admire your faith and I'm THRILLED you found your way. Doesn't Carleen's book sound good?!

Amy

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Carleen-the middle can be hard, can't it? You know the boffo ending ahead, but you've got to get there the right way.

Ello-I love that it was the way you "revealed" the ending that changed. That's part of the fun of writing, isn't it--seeing the new way unfold. And thanks for picking up my book. Let me know what you think.

Amy-Brave or Nuts? I'm not always sure, but thanks for thinking of me as brave. And I can't wait to dive into Carleen's book.

Carleen Brice said...

Amy, how sweet are you?! Thanks you guys--this made my day! :)

reality said...

Judy,
Great post for me personally. I am heading towards the end (again). And reading your post served to tell me that we need to reach there.
Just Do It. I guess that should be the motto for writers.