Last week, I was lucky enough to take a few days out from my life to go back to the Gilchrist Retreat Center. I went with my friend Mart again, for two half days and one glorious rainy day that held us at our computers for the better part of 12 hours.
This year wasn’t the triumph that I felt last year. I struggled with the book I brought to work on. The work itself was an emotional roller-coaster. Someday day I’ll write about the stages of grief an author endures during a novel revision. I managed to go through all of them in the course of our brief retreat.
Dies Irae, the book I struggled with, is the sequel to As Above, So Below. When Brian and I wrote the original draft of our novel in 1998, it came in around 600 pages. When I revised it to get it down to salable size, I chopped the monster in half at the exorcism, which is the natural ending of the first half of the story. That left the true ending of the story as the climax of a second book.
I worked on Dies Irae for Nanowrimo one year and wrote a new beginning to introduce the second book. Later, I pulled the rest of the book together in a rough order. I remembered it as being a nearly finished book. Reading through it earlier this week, I realized there’s still a lot of work to do.
And I was completely stumped by what to do with it. Wednesday morning, I was beating my head against chapter four, which had become a dumping ground for time-filling scenes that didn’t advance the plot or address the main characters. There was some good work, but it didn’t fit the book I was trying to finish.
Then I realized that I didn’t really need those scenes. At least, I didn’t them where they were. I could pull them out and get back to the plot. Without the dead weight, the story would fly ahead.
It was the simplest realization, but it felt blinding. Inspiration poured into me and I fell in love with the book again as I saw my way forward. It was amazing.
Unfortunately, Mart and I had to pack up our stuff and clean up our cottage and drive the several hours back across Michigan to return our rental car. I didn’t have time to do the work to finish the book — and I don’t know when I’ll have the time to work on Dies Irae again. If all goes well, when September begins, I’ll finally get the notes to finish up the science fiction trilogy that I was contracted for in February.
This has been a rough year for me, writing-wise. I’ve managed to do some good blogging and I’ve written the monthly column for Scoutie Girl, but I have been waiting around since February — with month after month of short deadlines that whipped by with no progress — to get the trilogy out of the way. I haven’t dared to dive into a big project because I didn’t want to miss my deadlines on March 1, April 1, June 1, and June 28… I couldn’t concentrate with the impending trilogy hanging over my head.
Instead, as the deadlines have been missed on the other end, I’ve been mourning that the year is more than half over and I don’t have anything concrete to show for it. I felt increasingly drained of inspiration and unable to let the words flow on anything that really meant anything serious and long-term to me.
Going to Gilchrist changed that. I’m hoping I can steal some more time to chip away at the Dies Irae revision, now that the way forward is clear. I don’t want to waste any more time.
How do you find inspiration when it seems to have escaped you?