Monday, March 5, 2012


The ongoing problem with my novel has been that I knew where the story was going to end but not how it would get there or why or how long it would take.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was visiting a friend and she asked how the writing was going. I thought I had made some really great headway, and started babbling about the plot. On and on. Finally she just nodded and said brightly, "Well, I think it's great you don't know what's going to happen!"

Hmm. It didn't sound so great to me. I had just come so far in the last few days! I had fleshed out so much! Had she been listening to all the complex ways in which I was trying to work everything out? Or about all of my half-baked ideas?? Apparently not. If she had, surely she would have been more impressed.



It worried me. I'd been rewriting this novel since last January. I should have known by now how it ends. But I didn't. Like I said, I knew where it ended. I knew the major players. And my brain kept tossing in random suggestions like, "You should bring back someone from earlier in the novel!" And I'd say, "Why?" And my brain would just shrug and make a snide comment about how I wasn't doing my share of the work.

Weeks and weeks ago, my beta had kindly and accurately accused me of stalling. She pointed out that I was slowing down because I was afraid of the ending. She was right.

Just yesterday I announced to Curt that I was going to set a deadline and then I was going to chart out word goals and corresponding rewards because I had lost that sense of urgency, that feeling that there was anyone, anywhere, who cared at all about this story being told.

I was beginning to wonder if I still cared.

And then, last night while I was lying in bed and unable to sleep, I had an idea.

It began with a somewhat inconvenient obstacle for Maggie & Co. but it was snappy and it made me smile in the dark. I wrote some perfect (they are always perfect in the dark with no paper proof) sentences in my head and when I finally acknowledged that I wasn't going to remember all of this in the morning, I got up and wrote it down. I had a couple more ideas. Great!

I came back to bed with the notebook—just in case.

The ideas kept coming. I didn't want to turn on the light or get up again, so I wrote in the dark, just a few words per page in the hopes that I'd be able to read it all in the morning.

But it all just kept unspooling, like a shining gold ribbon revealing itself to me, at last. I have read interviews wherein writers talk about The Unspooling, a moment when everything comes together and it all makes sense and you feel a sense of calm and rightness.

Of course, that sort of writing magic never happened to me. So I had filed it under Possible Evidence to Prove I am Not Meant to Be a Writer and forgot about it.

Last night, The Unspooling finally happened to me.

I feel really good. So good that I almost don't want to open my notebook and realize that the sparkling brilliance I wrote last night is in fact a handful of rough ideas that are going to require months of work to polish into something that shines.

Even so, it really did feel like magic.

For once in the last several months, I stopped beating myself up for being slow, or lazy, or easily distracted.
 Illustration by Edward Gorey

Just this once, in the middle of a snowstorm last night, beneath a pink sky in a creaking old house, I thought to myself, "Maybe I was just spinning straw all this time and finally—FINALLY—I've figured out how to make gold."


  1. I'm pretty sure she was talking about this moment, when the characters you know so intimately start to tell you how it's going to end. If it was me (was it? You know my memory -- BAD), that's what I meant. You just needed a quiet moment in the dark to let your people take the story where it needed to go.

    That seems to be the most exciting thing of all for writers and for any good book it has to happen this way -- unspool organically.

    And I, for one, am very excited about it!

    ps. You have so not been slow, lazy or easily distracted -- none of those things. This is all part of the process.


  2. Anna, it WAS you. I hope I didn't make it sound like you weren't being supportive or encouraging. I was trying to make fun of myself because in that moment I was so ready to *dazzle* you and as I was talking I felt less and less certain about what the Hell I was talking about.

    You're right, it is part of the process. When we talked I was so desperate for the process to be over, and dismayed when I realized I had so much farther to go. Granted, I still have lots of work ahead, but I do think the wait was worth it. You were right!!

  3. YAY! UNSPOOLING!!!!! congrats :)

  4. I feel like I have those moments, but it's usually earlier in the process, so it changes later anyway.:P That is why I love to talk about my stories to people who also write or like fantasy--not for the uncertainty, but for the jolt it gives to me when they say something I wouldn't have thought on my own.

  5. Congrats on the unspooling! Just looking at the pictures you post on Pinterest leads me to believe you're writing a very rich story. Great things take time.

  6. Sabrina, it's so true. I love that feeling when someone says, "what about this?" and you go, "OF COURSE!" and suddenly that's the Only thing it could be.

    Thanks, Jazz! That means a lot!

  7. Thanks, whaddaya, too. I didn't mean to leave you out ;)

  8. Ha! It *was* me! Well, remember our approaches to reading books are also totally the opposite: I never read the blurbs, the reviews, even the back of the book (or the inner flap) because I want it to unspool for me in exactly that same way -- I want to be taken on the writer's journey and be borne away by the story. And I don't want anyone else's ideas about what it might or might not mean in my head.

    You read the ending first.

    So, it really was meant in the best possible way -- as a non-writer I would think that moment of unspooling would be the most magical one of all -- and I've read and heard enough interviews with writers to hear it described that way. It seemed to me to be a good place to be. The very best. A place where the ending would not be forced, but would come to you.

    Getting swept away by a story is the best part of the process for a reader -- so glad you're there as a writer :)

  9. I don't always read the ending first! Haha. Only when I'm not sure I want to commit to a story. Once I started thinking more about the process of writing/ crafting a story, I became more willing to read things out of turn and still be able to enjoy it.

    The thing about unspooling that's scary is that until it happens, you wonder if it ever will. It seems impossibly unobtainable. I'm sure that's true for every story individually. I'm sure when I'm writing my next book I'll be wailing that the unspooling will Never Happen Again.