Courage to keep on track

I promised to share my writing experience with you here in my blog. I must admit that I was afraid that as an unpublished author I had nothing to say. Two things helped me to overcome this fear.

The first was that by sharing my experience while I am gathering it, I could help my fellow authors, who go through the same at this very time, who are in the same boat with me, even though an ocean might be separating us, to feel understood and not alone.

And the second was a wonderful post, among many other inspirational posts by my friend and author, Menna van Praag on courage. She opened this post with the following sentece: “Courage is vital to living a fulfilling life & fulfilling your dreams”.

So, I decided to take some courage and to tell you what I wanted to tell.

My post today is about staying on track. You will see in a moment how this is connected to writing a novel.

In the last few days, I started to re-write my first novel.

I’ve edited various snippets here and there on different occasions, but now I came to the beginning.

One of the critique points and advices coming again and again, among other by Menna, and by my niece and best friend, Mihaela, as well as numerous books on creative writing, is to make the main theme, the main goal of the protagonist visible on every page, starting with the first paragraph, through every scene and until the very END.

The protagonist of my novel is based on my father. And the novel about his quest to find his family, which he lost as a child.

A thought struck me: I couldn’t possibly write the same sentence on every page : “I want to find my family”. The hints to this main thread had to be more subtle.

When I started to think of separate scenes and immersed myself into the words I have put on page in the first draft, the solutions appeared almost by themselves.

In the prologue, when Misha, my protagonist, was a child, rescued by a stranger, the solution was very simple. I just had to make him exclaim: “I want to my Mommy and Daddy!” or to ask “Are we going to my Mommy and Daddy?”

But in the first chapter he is in his twenties and the thought process is more sophisticated at this age. And above that, thoughts are not enough. As Menna told me after reading the first three pages of this chapter, I needed “to balance the internal story with some external action”.

So, I took time and put myself into the same room with my protagonist.

I asked him: “What could be there, or what should happen to make you think, yet again, about searching for your family and not pay attention to what was happening in this room?”

And then I saw it. It was a letter addressed to my protagonist from a person and a group of people, who devoted their time to bring families together, who lost each other during World War II.

Just before the start of the book, my protagonist wrote to them to help him with his search. And this letter might have had some news about his family.

This person, real by the way, or rather her letters appear later in the novel as well.

The funny thing is, this letter, in this scene, appeared so naturally. And there was no doubt about it. I shared this idea with my niece, and she said: “Yes, this is it!”

But how do such obvious and yet sometimes unbelievable answers come to a writer. Is there a clue?

I found the answer when I recalled what I was doing when I found the solutions.

What I did was the following. I joined the characters inside their scenes, inside the setting and I just was there. I listened, I watched. I let my imagination flow without stopping it, without analyzing it. And there was only one way it went. The way toward that best solution.

If we try to analyze it, then this probably sounds pretty weird. Just be there. What kind of answer is that?

But this is all I can say and it is as simple as it sounds. Visualizing the setting, getting the situation in front of my eyes, seeing this child craving for his parents, later seeing this adult in his twenties, starting out to find his family, all on his own. This helped me.

I was there, I was aware.

And just as happy coincidence wants it, I have discovered yesterday another wonderful quote in the blog The Kill Zone, posted by James Scott Bell, titled “Writing Wisdom From An Old Pro“, where he brought the following quote by a Hollywood screenwriter, Wells Root:

“A story maker’s urgent priority should be awareness.
A writer is always in his working clothes.”


Picture: Staying on track in Alps, 2007.