I am about to enter a scary phase in every author’s life: the push to the finish of a novel—in my case, my third, The Storyteller’s Bracelet. It’s got me in a very contemplative mood; my characters have not behaved as I expected them to, and the entire story has turned out to be something other than what I envisioned when I wrote my first words.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The same thing happened when I wrote Redeeming Grace, my first novel (recently re-released as On the Choptank Shores). Only in The Cabin did my characters do what I expected them to do, and even then, it was only most of the time. They threw me for a loop more than once.
I think that’s probably a good thing. Characters know where they want to go, what their true story is, better than their authors, I’ve decided. And I know more than one author who agrees with me.
When Scott and I went camping in Kings Canyon in October, I took great delight in photographing sap oozing out of a tree, and I got to thinking, when I looked at the photos for the first time, how like that tree and its sap I and my words are, when I’m working on a novel. Sometimes, the sap oozes gently from the tree, a drop at a time, like this:
My words, too, often are painfully slow passing from fingertip to keyboard to page. They are beautiful words. They just flow slowly.
Other times, the sap gets stuck along the way. In this tree’s case, the sap got hung up in a spider web.
In my case, my words have gotten stuck when I’ve become seriously depressed, due to prolonged illness or injury or surgery recuperation. This has frightened me a few times, because I’ve felt like I might never finish this book; that I might never write again.
But without fail, I come out of that dark spot that lurks inside me, and eventually my words become disentangled from my inner web that has held it captive, just as the sap burst free from the spider’s web:
Sometimes, the sap completely dries up, forming a hard resin on the tree. It’s beautiful to look at, but it goes nowhere.
I’ve written some beautiful scenes for this book that ended up going nowhere, and that I’ve had to delete.
But sometimes, the sap runs like a river down the tree, just as my words flow like a river from my fingertips. It’s an exciting time, this free flow of sap, of words.
I’ve given myself six weeks to finish this book. May my words continue to flow like the sap from this tree, freely, joyfully, beautifully.