Faith in the Writing Process

GollyGforceOne of the reasons (the fun one!) that I didn’t make my NaNoWriMo goal this year is—I had the unexpected opportunity to work on another project, this one a nonfiction book for young readers. In the past two weeks, I’ve gone through a series of writing ups and downs that are starting to feel strangely familiar:

  1. Exhilaration. This is the best book idea ever! It will work this way, and this way, and this way, and is such an amazing idea, I’m going to explode! And it will be so EASY! I’ll have this thing knocked out in a week, two weeks tops.
  2. Optimism. This might be harder than I thought, but I can do it. This is when I start diving into the research: I order a hundred reference books through interlibrary loan, make a trip up to my local university library to access journal articles, buy a half dozen more books from Amazon, and check out every picture book I can find from my publisher of choice. And then…
  3. Despair. Once I’ve done the research, I start trying to find the form of the book. I piece together one story outline after another and realize, without a shadow of doubt, that my Great Idea will simply not work. Ever.
  4. Obsession. This is the point when I know the book won’t work. There isn’t enough research available, I can’t find the right photos, and the story form that sounded so great in theory is stupid once I actually try to implement it—but I can’t stop worrying at the idea. It keeps me up at night and wakes me early in the morning. I muse over angles while running or cooking. Conversations with my exceptionally patient spouse turn invariably to analysis of other nonfiction books and discussion of different ways to tackle my topic.
  5. Depression. Why am I still working on this? I don’t even know any more, but every day I do a little more. I take more notes, look at more photos, and write new outlines, none of which quite work. I know they won’t work, I know there’s no hope, but I don’t have anything else I’m working on right now so I keep plugging along. Just in case.
  6. Eureka! In the middle of writing yet another outline, something clicks! I find a different lens through which to tell the story , a different twist that might…just might…actually work. And I start writing a new outline. It rolls off my pen, and for the first time I see the hint of the book I want to write.
  7. Confidence. why was I worried? This is what my writing process always looks like–the darkest. moment comes just before the dawn, and even when I think I know enough to know that a project is irretrievably flawed, I’m often wrong. I buckle down with renewed confidence and vision and get to work. Because after all, I’ve got a book to write.

It astonishes me that every time, for virtually every project, I go through a phase where I’m absolutely convinced that I’ve found the best story idea ever—and through a phase in which I’m equally convinced that the book won’t actually work. And I’m not even bipolar :).

It’s hard to keep going when I hit that low point, but it helps to know that I *always* go through it, if you know what I mean. It helps me to keep plugging along, waiting for that Eureka! moment. Because somehow, it always arrives.

What about you? Do you go through, or struggle with, different emotions during your writing process? How do you get past the low points? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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  1. says

    I think this is a required emotional process for all us writers 😀

    • Cheryl Reif says

      Oh, good! Nice to hear I’m not alone :)

  2. says

    Did you read my mind? I’m still on “Depression” and “Obsession.” Looking forward to “Eureka!” Hope I get there. *fingers crossed*


    • Cheryl Reif says

      I think of those steps as the midway point of a marathon–it’s painful and the end isn’t in sight, but you have to keep plugging along to reach the finish line. My fingers are crossed with you!

  3. says

    Great description of the process we go through when an idea strikes. I love the exhilaration phase–and I’ve learned to actually not trust it. Enjoy it, play with my project while I’m in it, but also wait for a calmer frame of mind in order to evaluate it. I’ve been in that mad love stage with a project and then it wasn’t strong enough to go for the duration. Kind of like relationships, I guess.