Last night, I had a Breakthrough Moment™.
Every writer who has spent more than a day trying to write any particular piece of writing will tell you epic tales about their Breakthrough Moment™ if you but ask them. It’s a cliche at this point, but for a reason: They’re huge. They change your emotional state, your perspective, your worth ethic, and if you buy into the idea, your entire fate. They’re the moments you know you’ve got your book in hand and just need to get it out.
You didn’t ask about it, but I’m telling you mine anyway. The bad news: It’s boring. The good news: it’s short.
The thing that happened: the writing just started coming out. See? Boring, but short.
But there’s a lot that goes into that moment that makes it such a big Breakthrough Moment™ for me. Let me share some insight as to why it’s such a big deal.
Learning how to write fiction has been the hardest, yet most satisfying, thing I’ve ever done. Literally the hardest. Literally the most satisfying. When writing blog posts or telling funny stories from my past or doing op/ed journalism, the process goes something like this:
- Make a point;
- Preferably humorously;
- Using aspects of your past, insight, opinion, or life to justify it.
That’s it. You dig into a wound, pull out the splinter, and either make people laugh or cry about it, or at the very least, understand it. The hardest part of the storywriting process in those pieces is done for me by the time I get to them, because I lived them. I was there, I know what happened, and all I have to do is choose a lens through which to look at it and tell you what I’m seeing through that lens. Hopefully, you feel a certain way about it, take something from it, and my job is done.
All I had to do was be honest in the writing. The rest takes care of itself. Finding that honesty is the hardest part, and it’s pretty easy when you’re willing to bleed on the page to get it out.
Marlowe Kana, however, is Science Fiction / Cyberpunk. There’s so, so, so much more that goes into trying to tell that story. I haven’t lived in the year 2097, so a lot of “just tell people what happened” can’t happen until I invent, out of thin air, what happened. And making all that stuff worth reading, much less make any kind of sense at all, takes a lot of work. This work is comprised of world building, character building, plot creation, beats and their placements, reveals, growth of character, growth of environment, growth of narrative…
As instrumental as all of that is to telling the story, none of that is the actual “writing” part. It’s not enough to just say “this happened, and then this happened, and then they did this about it, and so on.”
I have to really get into the story. I have to organize it, lay it out, and get it to a place where the actual storytelling happens. In other words, I have to live it in my head before I can write it.
I took a break after Volume 3 came out last year to get some air and focus on getting the rest of the work that needs doing, done. I knew I wanted to quit my day job and focus on Marlowe Kana (and writing in general) full-time. That meant putting my nose to the grindstone, saving some cash, and paying off debts. If writing were swimming, it would be like winning three swimming tournaments in a year, getting out of the storytelling pool, toweling off, and taking a hiatus from the sport for five months.
I dipped my toes into the pool a bit in january and february. In March, I began spring training. I started doing drills, building myself back up to do some writing. I figured I could keep up with the day job and writing novels at night like I did in 2017, and I did… but the thing I forgot is how much starting something up sucks.
There was a lot of important work done during those months — mapping out the story, outlining the beats, figuring out who does what, and so on. I am proud of the work that was done then, and I can’t wait to see it on the page. There was even some writing done. Several chapters were pushed out and some of what you could call “Volume 4” was well committed to the page.
Too bad it all sucked.
(That’s a bit hyperbolic. It wasn’t awful — not in the way the very first draft of Marlowe Kana Volume 1 was. One day I may even release that… It’s embarrassingly bad, though. I knew NOTHING about writing fiction. I cannot even begin to tell you how terrible it all was. Perhaps that particular bug should just stay under its rock. I dunno. I’ll think about it.)
Deleting everything I’d written in Volume 4 to date didn’t take guts or bravery. It was the right decision. It needed to go. It was “getting the rust out” or “warm ups” or whatever other thing you want to call it. The bottom line is that by attempting to salvage what I already wrote would have simply resulted in a bunch of sub-standard parts being glued together, in the hope that the seams won’t show.
It was hard, but it certainly wasn’t brave. It was just another step in the writing process. I see it much like fruit-bearing trees; you don’t get much in the way of edible fruits when they first bloom, and it takes several seasons to develop the really juicy stuff. But once they start producing great fruit, you can’t stop them.
That’s what happened last night. The pruning finished, the first waves of bad fruit tossed, the tree began blossoming what I consider edible fruit. And through this, I will be able to get the book done.
It was like diving back into the pool, ready to swim again after months of training. And it felt good. It just took a lot of work, mental frustration, aggravation, and struggle to get all that rust out.
Given that Marlowe Kana is a three-act story broken into nine parts, each third (1-3, 4-6, 7-9) has its own arcs and story and growth. My good friend Casey Edwards told me “Volume four will be the hardest thing you’ve ever written in your life, up until it’s time to write volume seven.”
He wasn’t wrong. It’s been just like Volume 1 — starting from the beginning of another journey, to another destination. And I’m certain Volume 7 will have just as many challenges. But I’m excited and ready for them, no matter how damn hard it is to get the stuff to come out.
So there you go. All of this to say, last night was a win. Writing happened. And I’m excited about it. And here’s the Google Image Search winner for the featured photo for this post: