It is very difficult to explain to people what it’s like to write a novel. When I’ve told friends I can’t do this-or-that because I’m in the throes of writing, they look at me in puzzlement, as if it’s some kind of excuse to opt out. I get the impression they think you simply spend a few hours at the computer jotting down some inventive ideas with a cup of coffee and, voilà, you have a great story. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Any good story takes tremendous time and effort. Writing a good book means laboring through research, creating tension, developing characters and orchestrating story lines to keep readers engaged, all the while crafting something fresh and new to excite the reader’s imagination. It takes a willingness to look honestly at a passage and realize it doesn’t convey what you wanted it to say at all, and having to start it over again, sometimes rewriting several iterations of the same scene countless times before you are satisfied.
After the first draft is complete, which could easily take months, the arduous writing progress begins all over again, this time with the help of those who are seeing the manuscript for the first time and providing content suggestions only their fresh eyes can offer. Revising content forces you to step back and challenge the ideas you originally thought were flawless and work through communicating them more clearly. The mental demands of finding a better way of conveying a mood or event can make you want to pull you hair out and give up. Yet, staying with it often produces a passage that is fresh and exciting. When it comes time for final edits to polish up the grammar and presentation of the copy, you know the end of the process is within reach. The day you finally send the completed file to your publisher is a beautiful blend of accomplishment and anticipation.
I have had the great opportunity to write a science fiction novel entitled Return Policy: the Unfolding and its sequel, Return Policy: Lost and Found. Each took several years to complete. In both instances, by the time the finished book was in my hands, I’d fallen in love with the story and its characters and felt a genuine desire for others to read the story and fall in love, too. Yet, since then, I’ve had to grapple with the unfortunate truth that the books will most likely never make their way into the hands of thousands of readers. My novels are just two more books in a sea of excellent stories that will float into the lives of a few people here and there if I am lucky. To say the least, this reality can feel deeply defeating.
In light of the hard work and struggle of being an author, you might ask why I sat down at my computer yesterday and wrote an outline for the third novel in the Return Policy series? In so many ways, it would appear to be an exercise in futility, even masochistic. If I were completely honest about the writing process that lies ahead, I confess I have entertained similar concerns. But the drive to share a story of great meaning and value is stronger that the predictable feelings of pointlessness that will surely arrive at its conclusion. If the story I write edifies peoples’ lives and makes them feel something real, it will be worth it in the end. My heart tells me the next story simply has to be told.