A delicate balance

Helga’s Post #49 – I’m the last of the 5writers to weigh in this week to share our achievements and challenges since we gave birth to our blog a year ago.

By now you’ve read how this last year has challenged, changed and rewarded four of us, namely Silk, Paula, Karalee and Joe. All have big achievements under their belt with hopes and big potential to see their work published. All have become even closer friends during that last year, giving generously of their time to help each other.

Now it’s my turn to bare my writer’s soul and share with you some personal anecdotes.

Those of you who have read my posts know that getting personal isn’t easy for me. It’s something I avoid. Of the 5writers, I think I’m the most private when it comes to sharing personal detail on the blog. Ditto for social media. Not because I’m introverted or unsociable (people who know me probably think the opposite), but because I don’t assume anyone is interested in my mundane life. I’m not a celebrity (‘not yet’, I would add when I’m feeling optimistic), but a perfectly average person. A writer struggling to get a good story out of me. So I feel reluctant to waste anyone’s time reading about ‘me’.

Fortunately we’re not all the same, or it would be a boring blog-world. I can truly appreciate anyone who has the courage to share their personal life with potentially billions of people out there in cyberspace. It’s just not my forte. But I will try to overcome my trepidation for today’s post.

So, yes, this past year has had its ups and downs. Writing-wise, on a scale of one to ten, I would rate it between a 5 and 7. As you know (see Paula’s posts), I didn’t finish my manuscript. I wrote somewhere between a third and a half of a novel. A work in progress. That’s why I gave myself the 5 on the scale, not more. But here’s the rub: Without trying to sound immodest, I chose to write a ‘big concept’ novel. A topic that requires so much research that I wondered, once I committed to it, if I would ever be able to transform all that into a story. To create a work of fiction that has a potentially wide readership. Why choose such a challenging topic? Here comes my confession:

Because for me it’s ‘all or nothing’. Go big or don’t go at all. Write a compelling story or none. Choose a topic that inspires, informs, angers, amuses, and entertains. Something with substance.

Of course that’s easier said than done. As I found out very quickly, a big story concept has huge hurdles to overcome, especially in terms of story structure. Such as, what is more important: the big concept or the main characters? Readers are generally more interested in what the characters are up to, rather than details of the ‘big concept’. So how to weave the two together without one overshadowing the other? How to actually create synergy between the big concept and the characters? A challenge that I had to face from the very start.

Add to that my aversion to detailed outlining. So I had my research about DNA, chromosomes and telomeres, all neatly filed away in StoryMill. I had filed articles upon articles about Chinese history and the struggle for power following Mao’s death. Ditto with Indian culture. Ditto with the multinational pharmaceutical industry.

I had decided on two main characters and had a pretty good idea what makes them tick. But – here comes the big confession, and I can see a collective rolling of eyes – as I continued drafting chapter after chapter – I still hadn’t made up my mind who the villain was going to be. I had three options in mind but couldn’t decide which would be the best. I figured it would organically reveal itself as the story took shape.

And so it was that by our collective 5 months deadline, February 5 this year, I submitted my partial manuscript, all of 16 chapters, to our group for review and critiquing. I left our retreat in Whistler village with the group’s gifts of wonderful, honest feedback, and many, many valuable suggestions and comments. Things that had totally escaped my attention. Character flaws too. Relationship problems. All manner of things.

I let it all settle, like steeping a good cup of tea. Put the whole thing away for at least a month. Then started ‘thinking’ about my plot before actually sitting down to pick up writing again. That meant planning and plotting during some sleepless nights, or while waiting in line at the supermarket, or while in the shower. That too is part of a writer’s process for getting a story written.

The month of August didn’t bring any progress at all. Not in the writing department, though much on a personal level. My husband and I took a magical journey to Northern Europe and Russia. Plus we spent ten days at the city of my roots, Vienna. That city always creates some serious yin and yang emotions for me. Love for the magnificent city, mixed with guilt for leaving my parents for another continent as a young woman. Love for Vienna’s unique culture and charm, which brings the occasional moment of melancholy for immigrating to the ‘new world’. Luckily, these moments are short-lived.IMG_1951

And now, September is well on its way, which also means the season for writing. I know, there shouldn’t be a ‘season’ but a continuous process of writing. But for me personally, writing at this stage of my life is second to living. Weeks and days are getting more precious as time marches on, and it means balancing and prioritizing.

Time management: that’s one area where I really want to improve. Somehow it was much easier during my working life because there was always a deadline. Now I only have one. That’s to finish my manuscript. Maybe I am taking a huge risk for declaring this: I am aiming to have it finished at the end of this year.

There. It’s out in cyberspace now.

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Evening on The Baltic Sea

4 thoughts on “A delicate balance

  1. Bravo Helga! Your passion for telling stories that engage and challenge you as an author, as well as your readers, comes through as clear as a bell. Reach for the stars!

    • Thanks, Silk. It’s a wild ride, but I am trying to write stories that I love to read. I will have to try and simplify, both for myself as I write, as well as my future readers, if this ever sees the light of day.

  2. I’m another blogger for whom it’s difficult to talk about “me” in posts. There are many aspects of my life that I’ll never write about in such a public forum. I do try, though, to be open and honest about my writing, both good times and bad.

    A “big concept” novel is not an easy one to write! Just your brief discussion of the research you’ve done is amazing to read and sparks my interest into what the story will be. I have no doubt you’ll succeed in finishing up your draft!

    • Thanks, JM! Cheering on from another writer is what keeps us going. Best of luck also with your story. Your commitment to blogging is amazing! Thank you.

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