The Writing Challenge
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

The Writing Challenge

Actually I'm facing several challenges this morning, the most difficult of which has proven to be the simple act of placing butt in chair and getting back to the gritty work of writing.  I've taken more than a month off, for reading, dawdling, cruising the internet, chatting with friends, cooking--anything BUT the blood-letting occupation of book creation. And make no mistake. Things have gone to pot during that time.  it's taken a couple of days to clear the desk of detritus--new nail polish, candy canes, several cat toys, several cats. I've had the on-going argument with Dundee, my big orange bully, who loves to sit between my screen and the keyboard, taking bloody swipes at the hand that dares to type instead of petting him.

But there's no putting it off much longer -- except, maybe, for writing a blog post about the new problems I'm facing. Many writers fall into one of two types.  There are the Plotters, who plan every step of a new book before they begin to write. And there are the Pantzers, who prefer to start writing  and let the plot wander in where it will, via the seat of their pants.  I tend to fall somewhere in between, although I have yet to come up with a name for my writing style, which, come to think of it, may be part of the problem.

I like to know what my story is all about before I start to write. I want to know most of the characters, (although the door is open for newcomers,) to understand where the problems lie, to have a pretty clear understanding of the major crises, and to have a clear goal in mind.  Then the Plotter in me starts writing and lets the Pantzer take over, listening to the characters, being willing to be surprised, and always ready to start off on a new direction.  My writing has always moved linearly and chronologically, eventually getting from point A to point B.

So what's the problem this time? Well, my new book is once again set in South Carolina at the beginning of the Civil War. (No surprises there!) But it's a bit of a thriller, with a "bad boy" figure who may be a hero or a villain. There's a fair amount of law-breaking, international spying, and violence, along with an on-going mystery. And the key to that mystery lies in a coded diary written 25 years earlier. The diary is THE PROBLEM of the moment. Its secrets will come out gradually, as someone breaks the code, but for those revelations to take place throughout the story, the diary itself must first exist, and its details must first be clear in my own writer's mind.

And that means -- GAH! I have to write it first! I am, in effect, starting in what I thought was the middle of the story. There's one plot line batting around in my brain while I try to develop an entirely different story with the same characters on my Scrivener page. The whole process reminds me of my first attempt at driving a stick-shift. The challenge of teaching my hands and feet to work separately nearly drove my father to drink. My music teacher suffered the same fate when she tried to switch me from a piano to an organ. I have a new-found respect for both of them.