Apologies for yesterday’s technical problem, which sent this to you with only a headline and no context. Thanks to Joel Canfield for the quick fix. Anything by Art Holcomb is worth a second try… so here you are. Enjoy.
“An exhaled breath must be cast away before you can take another.”
Years ago, a friend of mine was writing a mystery about a famous abandoned house in Northern California. David had teased me with this book for a very long time and after much cajoling and nagging on my part, he agreed to let me read it.
He finally showed it to me at a party over the Christmas break from college. He sat me down in his spare bedroom, handed me this beautiful leather binder, thick with each chapter tabbed and labeled, and then quietly left.
I was in for a treat. I held my breath for a moment.
And I read . . .
And, as I read, I grew even more excited. The first chapter was good, opened well, excellent visuals, with pacing and language that was capable and accessible. And I loved the characters.
The first chapter had been 34 pages long and absolutely left me hungry for more.
I flipped the tab marked CHAPTER TWO over and . . .
Twenty blank pieces of typing paper.
I went through the rest of the binder and it was the same thing: 18 more tabbed sections of blank white typing paper.
About which point, David couldn’t wait any more.
He came in and nonchalantly asked how I liked the story:
ME: I love it! Where’s the rest?
DAVID: Well, that’s all there is so far.
ME: I thought you’d been at this for a while.
DAVID (proudly)I have been. I’ve been rewriting the first chapter until I got it right.
ME: For how long?
DAVID: Eleven years this February.
I couldn’t believe it. I was startled at first and then I experienced something that surprised me:
I started to get angry.
I’ve been helping writers achieve their goals for a long time. And I wasn’t upset that David had been working on a story for eleven years; I, in fact, had several ideas that I’d been working on since I was in high school that I was never able to get out of me. But eleven years on the same chapter, writing it over and over again, refining, polishing, rewriting, perfecting? This was less a labor of love and more like Sisyphus pushing that boulder uphill.
At this rate, David was scheduled to complete his Great American Novel 54 years after his death . . . assuming he got past the first chapter.
At this rate, David was absolutely doomed to failure. This was a squandering of what I saw as a real and special talent and it upset me.
We talked about this for hours that night, but I was never able to get him to see that this was less a novel and more a delicious sort of penitence. That unless he let that chapter go and moved on, this wonderful story would be relegated to that binder forever. That he was paralyzed by a real fear which lay just beyond the tab marking CHAPTER TWO.
David and I grew apart in the years that followed and, in that time, I met a number of people like him, who were caught in a loop, unable to take a step out of their comfort zone.
I’ve often wondered what separates the Davids of the world from the writers who go on to have long careers and satisfying relationships with their talents?
In the end, I think it comes down the combination of FAITH and TRUST.
FAITH that you have more than one idea in you, that you don’t have to be defined by a single effort, that your next chapter can be better than your last.
And TRUST in the breadth and width of your own talent, and that not only can you see yourself completing that novel but that it will be just one part in a great body of work . . .
And, most of all, Trust and Faith that you will have an audience out there.
In the end, regardless of how any single effort comes out, you have to be able to let it go when finished . . .
And take that next breath.
Success always lies in the difference between what a person can do and what that person WILL DO!
And the absolute truth is – I know you can do it. If you’re stuck, reach out to an expert like Larry and get some help from someone who has faced this before you. You’ll find that, with help, you can quickly find your way back to the road to success.
Make your talent count for something. Work hard. Dig deep.
And then . . . move on to the next challenge.
ART HOLCOMB is a writer and writing teacher. He and acclaimed novelist Steven Barnes have developed a system to get your writing on the fast track and get you producing great stories every year. Drop them an email at email@example.com to find out more about their upcoming webinar for new writers in January 2016.
Still running two year-end story coaching discounts, one of offering a $900 savings… both described in the preceding post.
I want to share this paragraph from an email I sent to a coaching client today. He’s a terrific writer with a monster story on his hands (and, he’s very coachable), one that he and I are wrestling to the ground with an iterative process of pitch, breakdown, feedback, revision and more feedback.
I hope you find value in this:
This is the reason stories get rejected: the author whips it all into a stew of a story, and they fall in love with it. With the very notion of it. And then, under critical eyes, they explain and defend, and when the critic doesn’t seem to shut up, they rationalize that the critic just doesn’t get it, or – and this is worse – that the criticism doesn’t matter. First time authors, in particular, are well served to really listen and be open to change, when change is indeed called for in the spirit of making the story stronger.