CHANGING COURSE

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Something strange happened over the summer: I got a new story idea. As a novelist who had experienced “writer’s block” for many years, the prospect of two narratives spinning in my head was nothing short of miraculous. Rather than jump for joy, I stiffened in hesitation. I had already done considerable research and interviews for Story Idea #1, sketched out characters, and created a plot outline. I had even written three chapters! However, a force beyond my control took over when we moved to our summer cottage by the sea. Other voices and visions began taking hold, urging me forward.

Nevertheless, I proceeded with caution and made a list of why I was drawn to Story Idea #2.  Did I feel overwhelmed by #1? Was it those sticky plot points I hadn’t completely figured out yet? Was I struggling to depict the conflicts? The answer to all three questions was YES, but they weren’t sufficient reasons to discard the original idea. I had covered unfamiliar terrain in Lagging Indicators and believed I could do it again. What I couldn’t ignore was the emotional attachment I had begun to develop with Idea #2, its cast of characters, and themes. I was undoubtedly influenced by personal events (daughter going off to college) and wanted to use that backdrop to explore questions of family and identity.

While inspiration can be magically inexplicable, I recognized that without a clear plan, I would be abandoning an existing, developing story for a simmering, underdeveloped one. As an exercise, I gathered research material for #2; created thumbnail descriptions of the main characters, including names; imagined a setting with a distinctive feature; and crafted a working title. My final criterion was whether I could write the back cover copy. If I can summarize the essence of the story in a catchy way, I feel much more confident about its potential. Once I had accomplished this, Story Idea #2 began to unfold in a tangible form.

However, I haven’t abandoned my first story idea. I’m still conducting informal interviews and taking notes, but I feel a stronger visceral connection to #2 at the moment. What have I learned from this unforeseen turn of events? Although it may sound counterintuitive, spending time and effort on a project may actually lead you to THE project, the one that flows organically from your creative center and brings you closer to your truth. It’s imperative to listen to your inner voice! I’m prone to feeling guilty for not completing a task and had to grant myself “permission” to put that first story on hold. Even though I’m the driver of this writing enterprise, I still had to rationalize changing course, as though I had broken some cardinal rule on writing a novel! While I don’t recommend flitting from one idea to the next without a roadmap, I do think it’s worthwhile to seize those impulses flooding your mind with scenes, characters, and dialogue.

Many writers work on multiple books at the same time and have developed strategies for keeping their stories distinct. I will take them to heart and look forward to developing both of my ideas further—one novel at a time!