Grinding gears

Actually, I’m a rather accomplished driver when it comes to stick shift. I had the advantage of learning (out of necessity) on a dark Ohio road in the wee hours of the morning when the two other drivers were out of commission. Too drunk to drive, they were still excellent at hollering directions from the back seat.

But it’s not driving I’ve revived the blog to discuss.  It’s the many gears and speeds involved in writing a book I’ve come to discuss. The first two thirds of any novel I’ve written have been the easy part. And by easy I mean some days the words flow and other days I’m lucky to get a sentence. The last third is always a challenge. This is when I’m required to pull together all the various plot threads and character arcs I’ve been developing without more than a loose idea of where it might end up.

My most recent draft is YA science fiction about a girl on Earth who dreams of being a Mars colonist. I’m still unsure about the last third but I’ve recently sent a draft to my agent to peruse. So now I’m idling in neutral with a couple weeks off from that fictional world. I know that my brain needs the break even if it feels weird not to be making progress.But making progress doesn’t always mean moving forward, at least not in the writing world. Sometimes it means being still and allowing your brain to percolate.

The other day I was on my way from a summer teaching gig to pick up my daughter at camp and I had a half hour to kill. Luckily, I was 5 minutes away from the beach. I fashioned a pillow from a few choice items in the back of my car, lay back in the sand and closed my eyes for a few minutes. It was one of those rare times when my over-active monkey mind was still. I was tired, drained from teaching all day, nursing a head cold. The warm sand felt delightful pressing into the backs of my legs and arms.

I found myself rolling the final chapters of my recent work in progress around in my mind like marbles in a glass jar.

And then, “Pop!”

An idea.

What if you did it this way?

I can’t lie. It’s like freakin’ magic sometimes. It might be my favorite part of writing; the part that feels so much like me and yet totally out of my control. And I know this can only happen when I let go, of the plot, the writing, the long drawn out driving metaphor. I don’t know if the idea is good yet, if it is the answer I’ve been looking for, but it’s appearance gives me the excitement, energy, and faith to get back on the road even if I still don’t know how I’ll reach my destination.

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