Navigating the Swamp

Navigating the Swamp

[Author’s note: I am currently suffering from an annoying, stuffy cold as I write this, so if it doesn’t make sense, blame the weather.]

I always seem to forget how much work it takes to write a novel.

The first part is always easy… brainstorming characters, building worlds, plotting the story from start to finish. And even the first days of writing are usually pretty easy, when I’m still burning with that bright idea that led me to decide to write a novel in the first place. It’s exciting, shaping those ideas into something tangible, no matter how imperfect the result might be at first.

And then the brightness, the vibrancy, the excitement fades, and I’m suddenly 30,000 words deep into a mire that seems impossible to get out of. I have the tools I need to build a road to the other side of the swampy muck of that first draft, but there’s a lot of fog in the way and it looks like it might rain soon, drowning me in a sea of words and incomplete ideas.

I’ve trudged that path before, and it’s hard work finding the motivation and the strength to keep moving forward one slow step at a time, pushing myself deeper and deeper into the swamp, when I know that I can merely wish it all away by giving up and moving on to something else. I always have that magic spell in my back pocket. I know that the mire is of my own making, that if I turn around, I can escape it, but I also know that there is magic at the end of the journey, that if I dedicate myself to getting there, I’ll end up with something even more magical than those first few moments of creation.

There are no signposts here, no shining light to guide me to the other side. I’ve travelled a few swamps in my time, but those were different swamps than the one I travel now. Some were marshy bogs, others murky glades, and still others were idyllic, mossy forests riddled with unexpected pits of quicksand.

I used to think that if I could write one book, then all the books that followed would be easier because I would know how to reach the end, but the reality is very different.

The book I’m working on now is yet another iteration of a book I started in early 2010; it’s the fifth draft of the third version of the story, something like the ninth or tenth draft overall since I first started the book. I’ve traveled this swamp several times, trying different paths, different entries, different exits; I’ve gone off course and tripped and fell, finding myself at the beginning all over again. Not one of the previous paths have led me to where I want to go, so here I am once again. I have my map, drawn to the best of my ability; I’ve plotted the story again and again, trying to plan the right course, and I have hope that this time I’ll reach the other side and end up where I wanted to be all along, but there’s no guarantee.

None of the previous swamps were this hard to navigate.

Many times, I’ve wondered if I ought to give up on this story, just wish myself out of the deep mud and never look back. I’ve come close. I’ve left several times with the promise that I would come back later and try again. And I did come back, eventually, sometimes months later, sometimes years. It’s the kind of story that always draws me back, no matter how much I want to let it go. And it’s probably because I know there is a path across, there is a way to conquer this swamp—I just have to find it.

I guess that’s what keeps me going, even though this is, by far, the most difficult book I’ve yet written. I believe in this story, in its characters, in their journeys. It’s the book of my heart, as much as it has evolved over the last (nearly) seven years. It has changed as I have changed, and for the better, I think.

I am now nearly 34,000 words into this draft. I have at least 60,000 words to go.

I’m not daunted by that number, not anymore. I know I can put in the work it takes to get there, and I accept that it may be more difficult than I am accustomed to. Some books are harder than others. And a higher difficulty doesn’t mean I’m not capable (which is what I used to think… if I couldn’t write this or that idea, then clearly, I was an incompetent failure). It merely means that I need to rise to the challenge and work even harder to master the story I want to tell. I realize that now.

I’ve also come to realize that the more difficult the story, the more of myself I’ve poured into it, the more I’m trying to say, personal truths that are hard to face and harder to write honestly. And to me, those are the books worth writing, even if they’re far more difficult to put to paper.

So even though this book is hard, I’ve committed myself to it now. I have to write this book. I have to find a way to the other side, no matter how many drafts it takes to get across this labyrinthine swamp. Because this story is worth telling. It’s worth writing. It is worth all the work required to get there.

So, I guess all of this rambling, cold-induced nonsense is to say… find your path and fight for it. Don’t give up because it’s hard. Because, for me at least, the stories that are hardest to write are the ones most worth telling. They’re worth the struggle.

All you have to do is keep writing. Who knows what you might accomplish?

 

Brooke Johnson

Brooke Johnson

Brooke is a stay-at-home mom, amateur seamstress, RPG enthusiast, and art hobbyist, in addition to all that book writing. She's the author of The Brass Giant, a YA steampunk novel from Harper Voyager Impulse, and Dark Lord in Training, a middle-grade fantasy, as well as several other projects in the works.
Brooke Johnson

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  1. The Quest to Find Your Motivators | The Scriptors - […] week, Brooke Johnson posted about Navigating the Swamp – how each novel is an adventure to write with its…

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