Characters Who Won’t Let Go

This image pretty much sums up my blogging ideas last week for today’s post.

A few topics surfaced now and again, but none of them drove me to my computer, compelled to set down a torrent of words before they escaped my grasp. This was a good situation, though. Because it seems my creative brain wanted to play with other ideas. You see, it’s been flitting from story to story to  story, although never alighting on one long enough for me to begin writing. Yes, three stories. Now, please don’t groan and roll your eyes at my apparent inability to stick with one. These aren’t new stories per se.

You see, as my mind visits these ideas like a butterfly on summer flowers, the characters’ whispers grow stronger, something I haven’t heard in too long a time. Meghan still leads the way. Patiently, like a skilled rider regaining the bit from a bolting horse, she’s reining in my self-doubt. And earlier characters have taken notice and are following her lead.

Earlier characters like Madeleine O’Brien, who now suggests ways to tighten Death Out of Time by simplifying the plot, removing/replacing most characters, and holding back others for a later book. Earlier characters like Katharine Donnelly, who now is apparently willing to make changes to her story in Summer at the Crossroads and will talk the other characters into major revisions.

I never said “goodbye” to these characters when I shelved their manuscripts. I knew I would enjoy visits with them over the years, even if we never came up with a “publishable” or “marketable” version of their stories. And they never stormed off to leave me for a writer in some other universe who could make their life stories “entertaining” as they actually happened. Well, maybe they have shared with other writers…. But even if they have—they haven’t left me. They won’t let go. And I’m forever grateful for that.

I do wonder why they couldn’t take turns with their ideas, though. Then I could approach the stories sequentially, wrap up one, and have the next cast offer its ideas for revisions. I have my doubts, though, that any of these characters will want to wait in line. I’m not complaining, even if I may be scheduling time for each story. Or working on one while the ideas are hot and then moving to the next when the Muse brings in another round of possibilities. But after months of near silence, I’m happy to hear those competing whispers again. Thank you, all you characters, for refusing to give up on me.

Of course, there’s no saying the revised stories will be more “successful” than the originals. Madeleine and Katharine and the others know this, too. But they want to try, even to the point of letting Meghan help them and work with them. Three women. Three archaeologists. Three different stories. One writer. What will emerge? Only time will tell.

But that notebook isn’t looking quite so blank just now….

How are your creative endeavors going as we wind down the dog days of August?

52 thoughts on “Characters Who Won’t Let Go

  1. Well this sounds like good news JM, better too many ideas than not enough. I’m flitting about far too much still, not even stopping long enough on any one thing to smell the flowers. I think those opportunities digests I am doing for Limebird aren’t helping matters because they send my mind in even more directions thinking about different possibilities! I won’t stop doing those though, I just have to retrain my mind to pick what I focus on better. I’ve been a bit quiet in the blogging world for two or three weeks. We were away in Greece for a week and since I’ve been back, I haven’t done any new posts of my own, and have only visited a few other blogs, I’m sure I’ll be back in the swing of it all soon. Happy writing to you and your characters!

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    • Wow, a week in Greece? That must have been a fun trip! That would take my mind off blogging and writing, too. 🙂 I’ve really been struggling with the writing since early in the year. And I’ve been afraid that the creative well had gone dry and that my Muse had abandoned me as unexpectedly as she had arrived. So when both Madeleine and Katharine started dropping ideas again (on Monday the 12th on the way to work, no less!), I couldn’t believe it at first. And they kept whispering through the day, and the next, and the…. Well, you get the picture!

      Maybe I needed that break to recharge and to let the characters mull over their stories and what they wanted to do. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you soon find yourself suddenly ready to write furiously about one of those flitting ideas. They make for good blog posts, too. 😉 I know I’m not the only one who misses seeing posts from you!

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  2. Hi! I totally understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been working on the same manuscript for many years now, and I often get caught up thinking about ideas for new stories. I even start some of them, but after a few chapters, I always return to my main project.

    Of course, I plan to return to these other ideas once my current novel is complete. But when you’re working constantly on the same story for such a long time, it’s easy for your mind to wander to other stories. It takes a lot of discipline to stay focused, and inspired, on the same idea for so long.

    But because I’ve strayed from my main novel so many times, and because each time I’ve returned to it after writing only a few chapters of the other ideas, I’m confident that my novel is one worth sticking with. I see my work on the other ideas as creative holidays, and when I return to my main novel it’s as though I’m returning home.

    My point is that if you have stuck with the same story for a long time, and if you keep returning to it, it must be a story worth writing.

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    • Hi, Rhiannon, thanks for joining the conversation! These two manuscripts have been with me for a few years, too. But I’ve never been able to get them to a point where both I and beta readers can all say, “Yes, these are good stories and characters as they stand.” Earlier this year, I decided to shelve them and focus on my “Meghan Bode” character from the blog. And I honestly believe those older characters watched how she worked with me, and it got them rethinking their stories—something they had not been willing to do before!

      I’ve always believed in these characters and their stories, and maybe that’s why they won’t let me go, either. Even though we’ll be changing some key elements (and characters), the basic “facts” of their “real” stories will remain. And even though readers of the published versions wouldn’t know the original bits, I think my beta readers will be very surprised with the extent of the revisions.

      How I’ll juggle the writing remains to be seen. For now, I’m still taking detailed notes on the revision while also outlining Meghan’s novel. And even though the thought of rewriting two novels is daunting, maybe the fact that I’m willing to do it means that writing is more than a passing hobby in my life….

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  3. I had a painting instrutor that once said if you want to be a success as an artist, don’t get married or especially don’t teach because it will drain off all emotion and creativity – he would have said more but he had to pick up a kid from school and then run to teach a class.
    Creative people whether painters or writers do have that issue of not only life happening, but ideas and characters in their heads making demands. I’m not good at switching back and forth between projects – lose each’s path/direction and muddle all of them. But some ideas have to pour suddenly out imperfect, then become reclusive while they simmer and sort themselves. It’s like they are afraid of not existing if something isn’t down on canvas or font – and once they see a symbol of themselves, they are content to sleep a bit confident complete existence will happen – meanwhile there’s a marker for them?
    If an idea pops in periodically, there’s something there that deserves to be fleshed out – those aren’t the party girl that comes in with great fanfare, flounces around with demands and promises and then bounces off – just superficial fluff. It’s the quiet ones in the corner that observe all, growing in skills, and eventually step forward with stunning insights.
    Sounds like you’ve got quite a group there working behind the scenes. Get ready to run with them!

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    • Ah, your painting instructor sounds like a wise man…. Not that I would trade my husband for publishing a novel!

      Although I typically work best if I can focus on a single project during the day, I also get bored if I’m stuck on that project for too long without a break. But it’s also stressful when I have to work on three or four different projects in a day because I don’t feel like I’m giving any of them my best attention.

      When I started writing, there was just the one story. But within a few months, the second one joined in. And I’d go back and forth—sometimes productively, sometimes not. I’m hoping that both the characters and I have learned more about the craft since then. So maybe they’ll be willing to work together to make all three books the best they can be. Quiet Meghan, who started out in a corner, may be the catalyst for bringing them all to the same page….

      We’re taking extensive notes right now, seeing what can remain from the initial stories and what (and who) needs to go. All these voices are leaving me a bit overwhelmed this last week or so!

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    • They haven’t come easily for me, either, Margarita! That’s one reason I dropped to one post per week (usually). And I don’t intend to increase the number—especially if I’ll be lucky enough to spend more time writing novels again!

      So glad to see you drop by—I’ve missed you!

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  4. I’m playing around with ideas for Six Train’s sequel. 😉 I really want to lay the groundwork for it. Keep working on things. Even the “unpublishable” books may become publishable with revision, luck, and timing. 😉

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    • You are making fans of Six Train happy with that news! 🙂 As I mentioned to Rhiannon above, the thought of completely rebuilding two novels is daunting. But maybe the fact that I’m willing to do it is a sign that writing is more than a passing fad in my life…..

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  5. Glad to see you found a little mojo to fill up that notebook. You are kinder to your characters than me. I make them do things whether they want to or not, and I don’t hesitate to chop things they’ve done that I don’t like. I am not afraid to kill my darlings, as they say. Not anymore, anyway. I’m on a deadline. 😉

    This was a beautifully written post. Love the inclusion of the butterfly pic!

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    • I suspect many — or all — agents, editors, and publishers would say that you approach writing in a manner that has more successful results than my style does. 😉 Some of my characters really wanted to present what really happened as their stories. Unfortunately, it became clear that those experiences wouldn’t make the grade as good fiction in this world. And I shelved Crossroads in part because the characters didn’t want to change things. So when Kat Donnelly offered a drastically different scenario last Monday, I couldn’t believe it. But she’s kept at it. And Madeleine O’Brien stopped in, too, with suggestions that might make her story unrecognizable to the betas who read it. We’ve still got a long, long, long way to go. But to have the ideas flowing again is a great feeling.

      I think that butterfly shot was taken in Delaware…. If so, it’s been a few years!

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  6. I’m flitting also this summer. It’s almost time for me to buckle back down to writing and blogging business once school starts in a week. Yikes! That reminds me…I haven’t taken my kids school shopping yet. No wonder my characters can’t speak to me like yours do. I’m too scatterbrained.

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    • Some schools in Maryland started this week. Not our county, though, as is evident from all the kids still out playing during the day. 🙂 We had our “sales tax free” week last week, and the stores were zoos!

      I really wasn’t expecting to hear from these old friends at all. And maybe the break gave us all a chance to approach the stories from a new angle. Madeleine has always been open to that, but not the cast from Crossroads. So I’ve been rather overwhelmed with the new ideas this last week. But I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything.

      I’m betting your characters will step up once school starts. They’re probably better behaved than mine! 😉

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      • Maybe you’re right. I hope they step up and help me. Actually, I haven’t had any time to think about them with cramming work hours in between vacations and trying to get cover ideas for the 3rd book, etc. I am so ready to write and relax again. This other stuff is for the dogs (yet Ginger isn’t biting! Go figure.)

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  7. JM, that must have been a shock and such a happy surprise to hear all three of your main women whispering in your ears. I’m so excited for you!!!

    When I saw you posted a picture of your journal/writings, I thought to myself, “You are a brave woman!” I remember what you said in previous posts about ‘dropping hints’ so I couldn’t resist clicking on the picture and realized you knew exactly what you were doing. Great tease!

    Good luck listening to your MCs — I hope they play nice in the sandbox and take turns so you can get all of their new ideas down!

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    • It was such a surprise, Arlene! I couldn’t believe that I was hearing from Kat and Madeleine again. Especially as they showed me the possible changes we could make. If I can pull off these rebuilds, I honestly believe my old betas will have a hard time believing they’re the same stories.

      And I’m so glad you clicked on that photo! 😀 I wondered if anyone would take a look after my post about subtlety and dropping hints. A little warp brush action in PaintShop Pro, and my ideas are still safely hidden for now. 😉

      I’m hoping they’ll all take turns so we can have a smooth trip with all three manuscripts. But you know how unpredictable our characters can be….!

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      • I can hear your excitement about their return 🙂 I know you will keep us posted on how it goes and I can’t wait to read about it!

        Masterful — using paint shop pro but left just enough to keep me scrolling until the end. Just in case … by the way, how do you keep your handwriting so neat? By the end of my hand-writing sessions, my words are just scribble!

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        • I probably shouldn’t say this, but my handwriting used to be so much better. I could write for hours in a flowing cursive script. What you see now is more a mix of cursive and “expressive” printing. 😉 In this photo, you see two of the three pages I had written at that time. And I had to stop for a break because my hand was getting tired. When I started using computers regularly in graduate school, the writing muscles in my hand really started to atrophy. 😦 But I never lost the enjoyment of hand writing, so I’m probably in better shape that way than most folks today. 😉

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  8. Three different stories from three different characters? Wonderful! I wonder how Meghan knows Madeleine and Katharine. Are they related? Are they students? Co-workers? Competitors? What a great time for you.

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    • I believe they do know each other. If I’ve got their stories straight, Katharine and Madeleine went to grad school together. And then Madeleine met Meghan at a conference in the DC/VA area where they’re both faculty at different VA universities. I’ve got this “crossover” scene in my head where Madeleine and Katharine run into each other, not realizing how much more there is to each other than they’ll ever know…. 🙂 I’d love to be able to work it into one of their future books!

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  9. Great work! Well done JM – your notebook is looking a lot more healthy than mine. I love this sentence: Patiently, like a skilled rider regaining the bit from a bolting horse, she’s reining in my self-doubt. I think you should go full-pelt with Meghan because she seems to be the one you hold most passion for (but keep the others in mind, they may pop in where you lease expect them!) Great post 🙂

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    • Thanks, Gemma! I must be honest, though. That notebook only recently saw those added notes. It was feeling very lonely for quite some time. For now, the characters are all okay with taking notes on the possible revisions. But I suspect that won’t last for long. Someone will want me to write “just one scene,” and then, well, you know how that can go! But I’m hoping they will work together so that we can finish all of their stories without too many unnecessary headaches. 😉

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    • Oh, Christy, I am the Queen of Over Thinking. 😉 And Self-Doubt. But I’m so happy these characters are willing to help me — if not to overthrow these nemeses, then at least to reach a detente! The break was probably good. But I did miss all those whispers. 🙂

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    • Thanks, Denise! Until this month, it was a rough year for my creative endeavors. I think I’m moving forward, though. And maybe that lull is what I needed to clear my head and get a fresh start again. The link I suggested to Andrea in an earlier comment is a great way to view these periods when we may not be getting as much done as we’d like.

      It was so nice to win the book at Arlene’s—but boy is my “to be read” list getting long! 😀

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  10. Oh yes, I understand. I have some standouts that won’t keep quiet no matter what I’m writing. I too wish they could wait in a nice orderly line. I need a queue here sign perhaps.
    I love your nice full notebook page. I am a notebook addict and the orange is perfect.

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    • When it comes to creative writing, I have a multicolored assortment of pens. 😉 Some work better for editing than writing (like pink). At first, I tried to develop a system for when to use which color, but I quickly gave up. Now, I tend to go with whatever strikes my fancy. So far, none of the characters are claiming particular colors. But maybe that will change…. As long as they’re talking with me, they can choose whatever colors they’d like. 😉

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  11. It’s amazing how the creative muse works. I love it when I’m hit with a new wave of inspiration on an old idea or character. Strike while the iron is hot.

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    • I’m doing exactly that. I’ve been revising the opening scene to my time-travel novel, keeping bits from the original but making them nearly unrecognizable. Replacing two of the three characters involved will have that effect. 😉 When I’m not doing that, I’m taking more notes on all three stories!

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      • One of my critique partners once told me revisions should erase your original writing footprints, leaving barely a trace of your original draft behind. Sounds like that applies to this story!

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  12. This sounds exciting! I hope they manage to take it in turns and don’t make you work 24/7 for them. It’s lovely when the ideas are flowing.

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    • I wouldn’t change this flow for anything. Right now, they’re letting Madeleine work on her rebuild the most. But when Katharine and Meghan have ideas, I let them speak, too. Hopefully, that keeps everyone happy and moving all three stories forward. 🙂

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  13. I love the imagery of the character regaining the bit from a bolting horse. What a great metaphor. I really appreciate the way you share not just your successes, but also your struggles. I’m glad to know the words are flowing again for you.

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    • It’s a good feeling to be writing again. And I hope I can sustain it this time around. If I’ve learned enough from my earlier experiences, then I should be in a better place. It wouldn’t be honest to only talk about successes when there are so many struggles. And I want readers to know things don’t always come easily for me. And, as in life in general, the struggles can make the successes all the sweeter.

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  14. I’m happy you have so many competing ideas – I love those times, when creative thoughts are coming so thick and fast you don’t know where to begin. And thanks for the referrals!

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    • I’m being very conscientious about taking notes on the WIPs as the ideas come to me. I don’t want to lose any of them as I work on revisions to the first two and write Meghan’s full-length novel.

      I had been struggling with my writing and feared I had reached the end before I’d ever really started. And when I read your post comparing so-called “writer’s block” to fallow fields, something clicked in my head. I let myself think about other things and stepped away from the computer. And it worked. So I will always guide other writers to your post when they say they’re at that brick wall!

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    • I want to blog honestly about my writing journey, so that has to include the struggles. Of course, too many posts on that subject can start to sound whiny and self-pitying. I think tomorrow’s post shows how things are moving forward again and becoming more positive.

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  15. Pingback: Rebuilding A Novel | jmmcdowell

  16. I get this way about so many things, flitting mentally from one idea to the next and feeling nothing is getting accomplished. I have a theory about it: the mind is working in the background, sorting and making connections in the same way it does when you sleep and dream. Suddenly a cogent result bursts through the surface, but it really isn’t sudden at all; it was forming during all the “non-productive” flitting that came before!
    I really believe this and I bet it’s similar for you and your writing. 🙂

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    • I absolutely agree with you about the mind working in the background. That’s exactly the feeling I’ve had about what’s happened most of this year. Even as I faced a “conscious blank” when it came to the first two manuscripts, my Muse and characters must have been working on the problems in the background.

      And then, when I had been completely distracted by life and work, they reappeared one Monday morning on the way to work, with new ideas to solve the story problems. And I’m currently 8,500 words into the revision of Death Out of Time. And that number should climb this weekend, even with a jaunt to DC tomorrow. 😉 It’s hard to explain how good it feels to have the ideas flowing again! 🙂

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  17. Sounds like the crack in the dam’s become a gloriously great flood, JM! In this particular instance, it’s a good thing. Those pages and ideas are never wasted, and it’s great to hear you moving back to older ideas while still cultivating the newer ones.

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    • I am so happy to hear those voices again! Whether they want to admit it or not, Madeleine and Katharine owe thanks to Meghan. 😉 And I need to become a much better juggler!

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