By: Beth Malone
A little over a year ago, the idea for a novel got its teeth into me, and the thing just wouldn’t let go. Never mind that I wasn’t really sure where writing a novel could possibly fit into my schedule. Never mind that, in doing research (I’m writing historical fiction), I’d have to read enough books to fill a bathtub. Never mind that the longest thing I’d ever written before attempting this novel was 25 measly pages, and that was in college, for heaven’s sake.
The novel didn’t care, though, about any of that. It lurked around like a stray cat yowling to be fed. Maybe just to shut the thing up, I wrote a little bit; when it kept yowling, I wrote a bit more. The more I wrote, the more real the characters became.
They acquired backstories and habits and inconsistencies, and they started making all kinds of choices. The problems facing them were like knots I just kept cinching tighter, worrying all the while that I wouldn’t be able to unravel them.
So for a year, I worked on it, and I made, basically, a mess.
That’s where I got stuck. I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to move the novel forward, so I kept going around and around what I’d already written, caught in a writer’s eddy of endless revisions.
It was around this time I decided I needed a writer’s conference. I needed a place where I could take a step back from my ordinary life and view my work with some kind of perspective. I needed to clear away all the noise. I needed to be able to focus completely, to judge objectively, to hear ideas from others and to share my own.
Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference wound up being exactly what I needed. Four days jam-packed with workshops on everything from character development to time management. I drank a lot of coffee and scribbled a lot of notes and considered my story from every angle. By the end of the weekend, I knew what I needed to unravel all those knots.
Some things at the conference encouraged me, for instance one agent calling his audience to write—no matter what—with honesty and hope, because we are hoping not just to tell a good story but to change hearts, to change who someone is, even in some small way. It’s a hope that I’ve always had, but maybe lost sight of, and hearing it come from someone else’s mouth suddenly gave me faith again in the rightness of it.
Some things at the conference challenged me, like hearing an author tell me, “You know the difference between me and you? I finished the damn book. That’s really it.” Somehow, I believed him.
Finally, some things at the conference put my book on an operating table, opened it up, and showed me exactly where I needed to put the stitches in. By breaking the writing into components—character, plot arc, setting, dialogue—the whole project suddenly felt possible, even probable. I just have to go home, pick up the tools I’ve acquired, and use them.
I left PPWC not only with a renewed fire for writing fiction, but with the tools I needed to finish the damn book.