Whenever I face my own reluctance to start a new book project, with all its messiness and murkiness, false starts and mistakes, I remind myself that each draft supplies the mud from which a lotus may bloom.
Writing fiction that includes actual historical figures requires a willingness to “hear” their voices. My job, however, is not to ventriloquize historical voices but to channel the spirits of figures from another era through language that personalizes their perspectives and renders the past present for modern readers.
Multiple rejections from publishers who didn’t see a market for my first novel didn’t change my own vision for it. I came to realize that the absence of “market evidence” for the commercial success of a story like mine meant simply that no one had published such a story before. And now, someone has!
Resisting my own desire to direct my characters along the paths I may have in mind for them enables them to fall down, pick themselves up and take me to places I hadn’t imagined.
What I learned from writing my first – unpublished – novel, with its trials and errors, gave me the skills and confidence to write – and publish – Imperfect Alchemist.
As a novelist, I have learned to draw on my experience as a mother. Sometimes it’s no use trying to direct my characters along the path that I envision for them. I have to listen to them and allow them to make their own choices. Only then can they realize their true potential.
Receiving feedback on my drafts from perceptive readers can be enormously helpful. But at a certain point, I need to listen to the work, and not the readers, in order to be true to my own vision.
I’ve learned that I cannot protect my characters from the consequences of their actions, even when (especially when!) I think I know better. Until I recognize that they know their own minds and must choose their own paths, they cannot come alive on the page.
I like to keep a file for “compost” into which I throw a scattering of quotes from my own or others’ thoughts that have initiated or supported “organic” growth in my writing, which I can revisit when I’m in need of inspiration.
It’s hard to “kill your darlings” – to delete plot lines, characters, or passages that you’ve labored over but that no longer fit into your current project, so instead of putting them in the “trash can” you can keep them in a “treasure chest,” a file for rejects that you still value and may yet prove useful as the work evolves.
When I’m tempted to explore a digression that might prove to be a “rabbit hole” – a distraction from my current project rather than a productive path – I name it and save it to revisit for another stage or future project.
Revising a draft to reawaken its potential sometimes calls for widening the authorial lens, from zoom to wide-angle, or even choosing an entirely new tool – whether telescope or microscope – in order to see what may have been present but not wholly visible.
As an author of historical fiction, I embrace the pleasures of deep research into my subject, which can open avenues for a story that I might never have invented on my own. But I also need to let go of “expertise,” whether my own or others’, in allowing the story space to grow into its own potential.