What happens when you get in a fix and a story stalls out on you? Or runs away from you? Or forgets to that that left turn at Albuquerque?
In this episode I talk about the metamorphosis of my in-progress novel, The Bones & Brews Café, which was originally envisioned as a trope-tastic rom-com novella. Turns out it was anything BUT, and because I did not sit down and really look at what I was working with, didn't trust my instincts, and stalled myself for over a year on it. A sordid tale! Come enjoy my misery! And hopefully grab some advice you can use in your own writing life!
Welcome to the 12th episode of the Author Alchemist podcast. My name is KimBoo York, and today I'm going to be talking about trusting the process, specifically how to deal with your story when it starts to run away from you. I talk about some personal experiences and my kind of perspective on both the good and the bad of when that happens. So thank you for joining me, and let's get to it.
I'm KimBoo, the host of The Author Alchemist podcast. I'm bringing my years of experience as both a fanfiction writer and a professionally published author to the problem we all love to hate: the act of writing. You can't improve on something that doesn't exist, which means the most important thing you can do is simply write. Anything! Just write something. I'm here to help you do that.
Hi, it's KimBoo, and I am back. I'm recording this on a Thursday, which is kind of new, now that I've got my own schedule and I complete control of my own schedule. This is being recorded in late March, where I'm about the third weekend into being not employed by Florida State University anymore — by choice, which as regular listeners will know all about that story. Won't go into it now. So I've switched up the schedule a little bit, I don't have to give up my Saturday mornings to recording a podcast. But I do have to give up my Thursday mornings to recording a podcast. Here we are!
As I said in the intro, today's topic is about trusting the process. And there's a lot of different levels to that trusting the process is trusting yourself, right? So there is the fact of trusting how your brain works or trusting how you approach writing, trusting the skills that you have — you could go into impostor syndrome with this, but I'm not here to do any of that. I'm here to talk about trusting the process when your story goes off the rails, and I'm going to use a personal example of a story I'm currently working on. So if you want a little sneak peek about what might be coming up in the publishing world of KimBoo York, or specifically Cooper West, as this happens to be under that name, under that pseudonym, then stay tuned. So here we go.
And how am I starting this off? I'm talking about the way a story can get away with you. And this happens, not just a Pantsers, but it does...or discovery writers, I think it's the new term...It also does happen to planners or outliners. People who spend a lot of time trying to figure out what their character motivations are, and what happens after they cross that bridge and come through the new door to the castle, whatever. You get my point. They deal with it too. And I know this because I hear this from writers all the time, when we're talking about our stories, a writer who has carefully outlined everything will sit there and go, "Oh, my character just did X. And I don't know why it wasn't in the plan. And now I don't know what to do gonna have to shuffle things around!"
The approach might be different between discovery writers and planners, but in a lot of ways, we're dealing with the same issue, which is learning to trust our creativity to not be wrong. And that's a hard one, even for Pantsers. Because we still have ideas about where we wanted the story to go, at least for me as a pantser. I know that's true. I know, there are probably some pantsers out there who have just a completely blank slate on how they want to do it. But even then, I think they can get surprised, and they can end up writing themselves into a hole, which I've certainly done plenty of times as a pantser. And you're sitting there and you're in that hole, and you're like what now? If you're a planner, you could go back to your outline and start figuring out, well does this change things remarkably? Does this have a lasting effect on the plot? Is this just a little by play that gives me some character development? For Pantsers it might just be railroading through it and going to the next scene, or skipping three scenes and trying to find out where they end up and then going back and filling in the holes. Or it could be, as I often do, which is just kind of let it percolate for a while. Just let it sit there trying to figure things out. And sometimes that percolation takes a few days, and sometimes it takes a few months. And it has actually taken years in some cases, but those I think are outliers. Usually within a few months, at the most, I'll figure out what the problem is.
And that's the story we're going to talk about today as kind of case review of the problem, which is my current book, Bones and Brews. As I describe it, it's a diesel punk urban fantasy romance novel, male/male romance. But it was originally, way back in 2021? 2020? 2020! Yeah, because it was, it was during the summer of the lockdown. Here in Florida, we only had one and it was that summer, that spring and summer. I started writing a personal challenge to myself a novella rom-com based on the trope fake dating. I figured, let me see if I can just hit that mark.
Readers, I'm here to tell you, I failed to hit that mark. I was 25,000 words into it when I realized this is not a rom-com trope-tastic novella, this is much more than that. That derailed me pretty hard. I remember sitting back from the story and thinking, I don't know what I'm writing, actually. My characters aren't being very revealing, either. What are they doing? They're not helping me at all. It's their job to help me, what's going on? I sat on it for a long time. A few months, not not years, but a few months. And I realized, Oh, I get it! I'm doing lots of world building. I've got some subplots going on. Yeah, this is an epic fantasy novel. I mean, sure, diesel punk, fantasy novel urban magic, but it's still epic style, right? I'm like, okay, this is going to be at least 100,000 words, it's going to be possibly twice that. And there's going to be a lot of political intrigue, and there's going to be a lot of mystery involved and all these other things. And I started lining up the domino's, you might say. Obviously, as a pantser, I don't create outlines, but I started thinking about these characters a little bit more grandly, shall we say. And that actually worked, I got about another 10 to 15,000 words written with that goal in mind.
And I hit the scene...when you get one of the book gets published, I think if you've listened to this episode, you're gonna laugh because this scene has actually become the final scene in the book, and I'll get to why in a second. But when I was writing this one scene, where it was a garden party, the start of the social season, it was supposed to be an introduction of some other characters. And it just kept turning into kind of like a grand reveal type of scene and I just could not whittle it down, I could not make it less important, is what I couldn't do. This is a very important scene, and I did not know why. It wasn't supposed to be important scene when I started writing it. So again, I hit that wall.
And I think it is a good, you know, metaphor to use here, talking about these kinds of things as a wall. Because walls aren't deadends, right? Walls, just stop things like if there's a wall in the middle of the trail, or there's a wall around the house, you can't walk through the wall, which is not true, you can walk through the wall, you might have to break the wall apart to do it. But you can. Or you can go around the wall, if you're in a house, you can go, you know, through the doorway to the living room, you can go around, walk down the wall until you get to the next field over where the wall ends, or changes into something you can climb over. Or you can look for a door. You can look for gate, however you're imagining this wall in your head, whichever one works. So there's multiple approaches to take to it. I was really trying to take a sledgehammer to this wall. I do know that there are authors for whom when they hit walls like this, that works. And honestly those authors do generally tend to be planners/outliners. They know where they want to go, they know where they're going. They just need to get there. They take a sledgehammer to whatever wall is blocking them, fight their way through it and get back on the trail that they have already defined as the route that they're taking. That wasn't working for me, I didn't have a route to get back to. It was like I'm breaking the wall down and on the other side is this big ocean. I'm just like What? What? Huh? Cue another long break in writing this story now, I didn't stop working on this story, my friend Kim McShane, who I often do plot development with. We spent many a Sunday brunch over mimosas, or actually KIMosas, which is the Mimosa without the orange juice, because neither one of us likes orange juice. So it's just champagne. So we spent many a brunch over KIMosas talking about the plot to this story and the characters. What I could do, to figure out what was going on. We ran through a whole series of different plots and ideas and events and other characters. Nothing was gelling for me. It's not that those ideas weren't good, but they weren't for this particular story.
A year passes at this point, more than a year, but a year from the time I thought it was an epic fantasy novel. Moving on. Still talking about it with people who I'm sure were very sick of hearing about it. They're just like, yeah, it's not working, why don't you just let it go? I couldn't let it go. I love the characters. Do you have that? Do you have, I'm sure you do, where you have a story that's not working, but you love the characters so much. You just don't want to give up on them. I love the worldbuilding. I loved everything that I was doing with it except what I was doing with it, which was obviously not what I was supposed to be doing with it.
I wasn't trusting the process of the story. I was really caught up with the idea that I need to know what's happening. As a pantser, that can be a bad thing to do if you start getting too granular with it. And of course, every writer is different, so I don't want to sound like that's true for every pantser out there. But I think a lot of times with people who are writing into a story and letting in a role as it happens if they start focusing on the little things, as well as the big things, then you might as well just sit down and write an outline because you're not actually trusting the story anymore. I think maybe this logic goes for outliners in that you need to trust your outline. I don't know, I'm not an outliner. But I'll ask my friend Gina, Gina Hogan Edwards whom I do the podcast Around the Writers Table, I will include a link to that in the show notes for this one because it's a new podcast, we just started it. It's a lot of fun. Not like this one at all. It's not just me rambling on.
I finally put down the story or rather put down my expectations for the story, and stopped trying to force. I stopped breaking down the wall more and more and more and just seeing more and more ocean ahead of me. And if we want to kind of visuallly I kind of think of it as I instead of trying to go through the wall over the wall, I just sat down, put my back to the wall. And look where I came from. I wish I could give you the inspiration for the insight I had on this story that made me realize what was really going on. I'm pretty sure it was a YouTube video. I don't know if it was... Yeah, I can't say but I do watch a lot of YouTube videos about writing different, lectures, different YouTubers talking about planning and development. And for some reason, for some reason, I was watching something about cozy mysteries. And if you imagine me sitting there at that wall with my back to it facing where I'd come from, and I look back over the horizon of my story, imagine me jumping up and going, Eureka! Because I realized everything I had set up, every element of the story was perfect for a cozy mystery series. And I'm seriousl, every element was there the sleuth main character — the quirky sleuth main character, the funky funny sidekick, the junior sleuths who act as comedic relief a little but also can act as ways to get to different parts of other characters' stories or backgrounds that our sleuth wouldn't have access to write. The love interest, who is a themselves an important person, who is looking... is not really an investigator, I'm getting into world building there, but let's just pretend like it's an investigator who works with our amateur sleuth to solve these crimes. I did not have anybody murdered as of yet when I had this eureka moment, but it was very easy to murder somebody because I had the setup completely in place for why a murder would be taking place at this point in the story. It was all there, it was all there, it had always been there. I was too busy trying to break through the wall and not fall into the ocean to step back and really look at what my brain had come up with, what my brain was telling me. My brain, the independent organ, telling me to write.
So yes, Bones and Brews is now the first book in a cozy mystery series, I think it's probably going to be at least three, possibly five stories. There's bigger love story arc, going into it. There's a lot of politics in the background that our main sleuth, whose name happens to be Abby, he is trying to avoid getting involved in those politics. There's a lot of world building and backstory. As I said, this is diesel punk, urban fantasy set in a completely speculative fantasy world not set in our world. So it's just just a lot of fun. And I hope people really love the characters as much as I do now that I'm not as frustrated with them anymore.
So maybe that metaphor might help you — instead of trying to break through the wall or even trying to find a door or maybe sit down, put your back to the wall, look at where you come from, figure out maybe what you missed, that your story is trying to tell you that it wants to be, whether you're at the outlining stage, or as a pantser, discovery writer, the stage where you're actually putting words into the page, and making things happen. It's worth the time when you hit these humps, walls, whatever you want to call them, to stop fighting for a little bit. And that could be a day, it could be a month, it could be much longer. Unfortunately, that's just sometimes how it has to go. But if you could do that, if you could take that time, maybe watch some YouTube videos about writing, watch series that you haven't watched in a long time that you know you love, you never know where that inspiration is going to come from. And that's why you have to trust the process, even when it feels like you're banging your head against that wall. It's there for a reason. That's part of the process. And perhaps I haven't made it clear, but if you don't hit those walls, sometimes you're not going to have the insights and the eureka moments that will improve your story. It's all part of the process as much as we hate it. It's kind of like exercising, you know, it's like if you want to get stronger, you do have to exercise even if you hate it, that's just what you have to do. So sometimes you have to work really hard at the exercise. And sometimes you have to take a rest day and let your muscles recover. Yeah, you could do the analogy every which way you want. Very true for writing as well.
As always, my goal is to convince you that maybe you're not always wrong about everything. And maybe things aren't hopeless. Maybe just give yourself a break. Allow for the fact that this is what needs to happen right now. And follow it through until the wall isn't there anymore, whether it's because it's a gate, or you did break through it with a sledgehammer, or you just found a way around it, or you backtracked like I did, and found a completely different road going in a different direction! Might be the solution to all your problems.
So thanks for joining me here today. I appreciate you taking the time to listen to me ramble on. Always glad to have listeners. If you want to be updated about new podcasts that are going out, please visit my website, author Alchemist and sign up for my newsletter. It doesn't go out very often but it does go occasionally. I send updates to people about new podcasts, although this is available on most podcasting platforms so you can also subscribe there. I have the course Out from Fanfic use what you know to write what you love available. That is live. I've got a couple of ideas go in and brewing for courses I've talked about before that's ongoing. Also the freebie "Write to Market or Not" if you are a fanfiction writer who is going into writing original fiction and concerned about how to write to market, then that's the freebie for you! 16 pages of free advice and insight that might help you. So go to my website and sign up for that as well. Again, thank you for listening, but you can't drag it out any longer my friends: it is now time to get to writing. Have a good day. Thanks for listening to me ramble on about writing here on the Author Alchemist Podcast.
I'm KimBoo York and I hope this episode has helped clear away the cobwebs from your inspiration. For more podcasts and other tools including self paced online courses, please visit my website at www.authoralchemist.com (no dashes )or email me at KimBoo@authoralchemist.com. I'd love to read your questions and feedback. Now, time to get some writing done!
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