A Simple Laugh

A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed at her when she heard how long this story has taken.

So many things come to mind.

First, one writer laughing at another over someone’s process. No wonder my friend was discouraged (she said she can’t get that laugh out of her mind). It’s never okay to laugh at the expense of another, but especially when it’s around something that is an intimate part of who a person is. So it hurts.

Second, who cares how long it takes to write something? Some of us are fast, and some of us (myself included) are slow. My friend said she didn’t understand how authors could pump out a book a year. I explained how someone writes a book, then sends it off to an editor, and during the long editing and revising process, they work on something new. Granted, that doesn’t speed my writing up any, but for most it does. By the time book one comes back from editing, book two might be ready to go off to the editor, so there’s a cascade effect. Added to that, some people have a lot of time to write.

badlands 3

How long to write a book? Sometimes as long as it takes to grow in the badlands

Third, and probably most important: we don’t write on our timeline. It comes down to how long that story needs to be inside. How long that story needs to take, to be told. Some need to be like that kettle of cold water on the back burner, slowly coming to a simmer. Some just boil away and pour out.

We write on the story’s time.

I’ve been working on my current one three years. Do I worry about that? Yes, from a marketing standpoint, where I realize I’m ‘away’ from readers too long. But I don’t worry about it from the writer’s standpoint, because this story is taking a lot of time. It’s something new for me so I’m learning as I go, which also adds time. Plus, like I said, I’m just a slow writer. I meander along the story’s path, enjoying the view.

badlands 4

Fourth, some stories die and we might take a long time to realize it. I asked my friend how close she was to the end of this revision. She said she only had a few pages to go. I asked her if other stories were teasing her, waiting to be told, and she said yes. She had several ideas, and when she talked about them, she lit up. You could see the excitement.

So we talked about those manuscripts all writers have, that live forever in a box somewhere. Ones that someday we might go back to and try to revive.

This is her first novel. We talked about how we learn from that first manuscript. How sometimes that first one might go on to become a book or it might not.

I think she left, encouraged to knock out those final few pages. I think about how free she will feel when she’s out from that burden of perceived pressure to finish something. I think about how excited she will be to jump in to something fresh and new. Maybe something not tainted by another’s laughter.

And I think how easily a single word, a single laugh, a single expression, can be so devastating. Because I know the person who laughed, and I know she did not do it to be mean. I know she would be upset with herself if she knew the impact that laugh had.

By the way, I’m so close to finishing my three-year project. I thought I’d written the last chapter but as I finished I knew it wasn’t right, that I’d gone in the wrong direction on that path. And that I’d forgotten to let some characters face their fears.

So I’ll be redoing those last few pages.

Hopefully it won’t take three years.

But if it does, hey, that’s okay.

bridal veil falls

And sometimes the story just pours.

11 thoughts on “A Simple Laugh

  1. Bridal Veil Falls? LOVE your pix and always appreciate your meditations. Pat Larson

    silversheen1@gmail.com PHONE: 425-298-9431 (please leave a voice message)

    On Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 6:54 PM Lisa Stowe – The Story River Blog wrote:

    > Lisa posted: “A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story > she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time > (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed > at her when she heard how long this story has taken” >

    • This was such a good post. I loved the insight that you have to write on the story’s timeline. I have a book like that. I’ve been working on it for about fourteen years, off and on. I’ve written three other books in the meantime — all for them have been published, and I’m still working on this book, because it really isn’t dead. Just slow to flesh out. (It requires a lot of research, among other things.) So I took heart from this post.

      • I don’t like the manufactured deadlines people put on stories, and then the associated guilt that follows. That one you’re working on has a reason for taking its time to be finished. Once it finally is, I’m willing to bet you’ll see that it’s much better than if you’d finished ten years ago.

  2. ugh!! a good story is like a good wine in my eyes… 😉 Maybe not always, but then I read a lot of great books that I had to wait for. Yeah it sucks waiting as a reader, but writing can be really hard!!! I know, I never finished anything… 😉
    I think also if this has been in the work for 10 years it must be really close to her heart and maybe pretty emotional. its hard to let it go, where do you draw the line and “finish it”? Is a story ever really finished?

    • You’re so true about the last bit in your comment – this probably is close to her heart. And no, a story is never finished! You just have to figure out the point you can let it go. And then end up frantically trying to grab it back…

  3. I smiled when I read Pat’s comment, as ‘hmm, Bridal Veil, nice’ was my first thought as well.
    My takeaway from this anecdote was less about writing process and more about: try your best not to let someone elses input derail your creative process.
    As I age I realize that I have spent far too much time in my life mulling the thoughts, reactions, approval of others. I’m so sorry now that I can’t get that time back and spend it in creative pursuits.
    TO this writer: kudos for getting where you are! My writer heart is proud of you.

  4. I believe that writing is one of the hardest things a person could try to do. Writing a book has to be a Herculean task. Even Edgar Alan Poe wrote only short stories because of his limitations. Comparing ourselves to others is the ultimate in discouragement and self-destruction. You’re own creative process is entirely your own. You are unique.

    • So very true. I find writing down stories easy because of my vivid imagination and story world. But revising and editing and making it into something professional is where the hard work is for me. Of course with each thing you write you are learning and hopefully improving. It’s always a learning process, that’s for sure. And as you point out here, we can be our own worst enemies.

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