When you read the work of a fine author, what you see, generally speaking, appears flawless and flowing, as if it came naturally and without a lot of struggle. Don’t you believe it. Every author battles to get a work from their imagination onto the page.
I’m working on a novel right now. When completed, it will be the eleventh in the Cork O’Connor series. The title is Northwest Angle. The book is set in one of the most remote areas of Minnesota, and the story, as I’ve conceived it, is a convoluted situation of misunderstanding, mostly as the result of prejudice. People die and the where the finger of guilt points—with support of the evidence—is at the wrong man. Even Cork buys into the local prejudices. Add to the pot(boiler) some ruthless smugglers and a foundling child whom death follows like a shadow and you have the general ingredients of the story.
So I have a notion of what’s going to occur. I know, more or less, the A, B, C of things. What I’m struggling with is the information and occurrences that will naturally connect the plot points. And therein lies the struggle.
In the past, I’ve usually outlined a book, or at least thought the plot through significantly, so I’m almost never worried about the dreaded question that keeps many mystery writers up at night: What happens next? But I’ll admit that in this manuscript I’m flying by the seat of my pants. I struggle with chronology, structure, characters (way too many in this one, I fear), motivation. In essence, everything.
I admit there are moments when I’m not sure I can pull it all together. I think to myself, Every author is allowed a book now and then that falls short. So maybe this is going to be the one.
I hate myself for even thinking this. I don’t ever want to let myself or my readers down with an effort I didn’t put my full heart into. So I struggle and lie awake at night and live with the fear of failure and every morning I get up and go to the coffee shop and give it my best effort.
I remember reading a note John Steinbeck sent to his editor along with the manuscript of The Grapes of Wrath. In the note, he apologized for the book he was delivering, feeling he’d somehow fallen short. Even the greats have struggled.