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How a Viking Saved My Writing Life

There's something I've wanted to admit for a while now, but I can never quite find the words I needed to say it. It's hard to admit we have flaws, even though we have plenty.

Sometimes I get really depressed. It feels like a gray abyss that's impossible to break through. Actually, I once read some fan fiction in which a character was depressed and he described his feelings as living in a dark room with no windows and doors and no way out. That's what it's like.

I'm not depressed today (at least, I don't think I am. I wrote this post in advance of what I'm about to share with you, so past me is feeling pretty good about herself). In fact, I've had a superb October, which is great and I hope to carry those good feelings with me to get through November. You know I hate November.

I finished the semi-sekrit project I've been hinting at. It's a historical romance about Vikings. I've never written anything like this and I never imagined I would. I have to remind you, saying 'I will never' is the wrong thing to say and do, because you just might someday actually do what you said you wouldn't. I didn't say I'd never write Viking romance, but I sure never gave it much thought until one day this happened:


I didn't post that to Facebook. I thought about it. I hated myself for typing various forms of the same words. Posting it meant I was admitting to failure (that first tab is a Google search for 'What to Do When You Fail').

I was struggling with a contemporary romance, struggling with Tell, struggling with another historical romance even though I'd finished my Jano book and written my novella for the Cowboy Up set. I was treading water, but I was sinking fast. The sharks were circling and the captain had already lost sight of her ship.

I couldn't find the words I needed to make another novel happen. Around February this year, I started keeping a motivational quote board on Pinterest. I'd been doing it for writing advice and motivation for a while, but this time it was all about reasons you should keep going. It's here if you're interested. I like reading quotes about how I'm stronger than I think I am. I like finding hope in the words others have shared. I kept going back to them and the ones on my writing advice board (which is here), hoping I'd find what I needed to get me back on track. So I'm sharing some of the quotes from my Don't Worry board that moved me along with the story about how why the Viking novel came to be.

I found the quote by Tyler Knott Gregson on Pinterest and it struck home because I love writing. When I'm not doing it, I'm thinking about it, about how to begin a new book or keep the middle flowing or how to write the perfect ending. Sometimes I spend so much time thinking about it, it becomes overwhelming. If I don't write faster, I hate myself. If I don't writer stronger, I'm afraid I'll forget everything I learned. If I don't get it right the first time, then I'm afraid I'll never get to the ending. During August and the beginning of September, I forgot how to swim. All I could do was obsess about what I wasn't doing. I decided I wasn't doing the contemporary romance or the historical romance. I have to finish Tell because I love him deeply and he deserves to have his story told. It's just a matter of when the time feels right.

Shortly after the announcement that almost cancelled my writing career (or the depression that  threatened it anyway), I just opened up a document in Open Office and started writing about this Scottish girl who got abducted by Vikings after they sacked her village. What did I know about Vikings? Um...practically nothing. It took over four hours to write the first chapter. What do I know about most of the things I start writing about? Practically nothing. So a lot of research was involved. I'm still scared that I might be really, really wrong about some things.

I sent it to my critique partner, D'Ann Lindun and told her flat-out, I have no idea what I'm doing, I don't write this stuff. And you know what? She didn't say, Geez, you're right, you don't write this, stop right now! She encouraged me to keep writing it. So I did. And with every word, I felt a little better. With every sentence I felt braver. With every paragraph, I fell in love with writing all over again. With every page, I stopped worrying about what everyone else thought and I wrote for me.

In September, at ORAcon, I pitched it. It wasn't even half finished. I told the editor I was planning it as a novella and I told her I suck at pitching and I read word for word from the index cards I had meticulously written out the night before. Because if a Scottish girl abducted by Vikings could become their queen, I could read from cards. And she liked the pitch. And then I felt like I was really on to something. "You're sure you can get all that into 30,000 words?" she asked. I said yes, because I needed something quick, I needed something to get me jazzed for NaNo in November, it was a fun project and I knew I could do it.

Hmm...imagine my surprise when 25k came around and I had no ending in sight. Better still, when 35k rolled past and...no ending. Then I decided it would probably run into novel-length. Who am I to tell the characters to shut up when they're leading the way? I'm just a pen monkey who's grateful for every word they offer. At least they weren't shutting me out like characters in other books have.

They were making me feel, believe, hunger for the perfect ending. And for the first time in who knows when, something that really mattered to me, something that I believed in came to life on the page. I'm not saying the other things I worked on this year aren't worth the effort that went into them. I love everything I've done this year, but for the first time in a long time, I don't feel like I was fighting my way upstream in a flood. Those are the truly important works. If they're not so important for everyone else, they at least bring the comfort of knowing I worked on something for myself. I'm not broken, just a little bent, but Vikings helped me hammer out the flaw of doubt and worry. Today, I'm happy that I've finished a novel I never imagined writing.


Comments

  1. I'm having a treading water moment with my WIP. I want to finish it during NaNo, but I have this fear that nobody will like it and it won't be as good as BTH. What if all the connections I've finally made call my sophomore attempt bad?
    I'm glad you found your writing voice again. The world needs your words.

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  2. Never stop writing, you have stories to tell. You told me last night you have 11 published books. This is amazing for a person who was born in the backwood sticks of a small township in Missouri. I have not read one word of this book and I already know it will be one of my favorites.

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  3. ((hugs)) to you, Alison! I think everyone can identify at least a little with what you shared. I went through something similar, at almost the same time you were going through your own tunnel, and it was hard to find my way. I'm getting there, though, and I'm so glad you found your voice again.

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