A Writing Epiphany about Persistence

The following isn't meant to be writing advice. It does, however, contain the possibility of a suggestion for writers who, mid-manuscript, find themselves in a serious bind.

It's not unusual to read advice about writing that urges persistence. Just keep writing. Write every day. Write when you don't feel like writing. Keep at it and you'll succeed. Etc. On the macro level, I've been writing, keeping at it, for more than 25 years. I stop every now and then for one reason or another. Those breaks last anywhere from a few days to several months. But I always come back to it. Sometimes I like writing, sometimes I love writing, sometimes I feel compelled to write, sometimes I loathe writing, and sometimes I'm bored and turn to writing to kill time. But I always come back to it irrespective of my lifelong lack of commercial success.

On the micro level, I've been trying to write the fourth Nick Temple File, The Flemish Coil, for close to three years, far longer than it took to produce each one of the other three. Honestly, I wrote myself into a corner and was unable to figure out how to get out of it. I made notes, revised chapters, revised dialogue, tried new ideas, added characters, subtracted characters, added and subtracted plot points, and did anything else I could think of to get the book out of neutral. No luck for two years straight.

This summer, after I finished the manuscript of another book I wrote in the meantime, I resolved to go at The Flemish Coil again, as I had the previous two summers. This time I found a way through. What is interesting, at least to me, is that the way through was, for the most part, sitting in the 30,000 words I'd already written. The characters were there, they just needed to be connected in a few new ways. The plot was there, it just needed to be teased out of what felt like stale predictability. And the action was there, it just needed to be grounded more completely in the emerging plot and character relationships. In short, what has happened is looking in large measure at the same material in different ways to find the story that appears to have been lurking there all along. I'm pleased with the results thus far. I'm making steady progress. I know where the story, the characters, and the action are all going. And, thankfully, I've put a more than two-year funk behind me.

As I said at the outset, this brief entry is not intended as advice. I've found that most writing advice, except for the most apparent, is personal to one writer and does not generalize well. Perhaps the epiphany I've had with this writing experience is in that same category. In the event that it's not, I thought I'd share it.