Taking the Long View

Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.  ~ Stephen DeStaebler


A mighty struggle these past weeks to settle down and write. Late October arrives and I haven’t written anything new since July. Oh, I’ve been busy: one novel completed and in others’ capable hands; another novel revised and ready for critique; two short stories sent out into the world, in search of acceptance and homes.


But I’m restless and panicky, wondering how much conditioning I’ve lost in the months since I last faced down a blank page.


Starting a new novel is an emotional gambit: vulnerability—certain; risk of failure—absolute; excitement—total. First come the heady days of pouring ink onto the page: the spark of an idea that transforms into character sketches, themes, research notes and eventually, the plot outlines that precede the first lines of typed prose.


The first day of writing. The second day of writing. The first week. Frustration borne of restlessness, feeling words spilling over the dam, but having my fingers in too many holes to catch them all. Attention span shifting this way and that and days of grinding out words I can barely hear through the chatter in my head.


A perfectly good excuse. I have one. I want to tell you. I’m bursting to tell you. A day when the course of my life shifts, perhaps just a bit, perhaps seismically, like a train shunted onto a new track at the last moment to a destination yet unknown—not the next station in the next small town, surely, but maybe the one after that or maybe a long grinding roll onto the big city. I’ll tell you as soon as I can. It’s the blog post I’ve been dreaming of writing.


But no matter what happens next, I must be present in the now. I must do my job. I must write.


A sucker for the carrot of simple goals, I pop open the Project Targets box in Scrivener and reset my daily word count. I sense this story will not come as easily as The Crows of Beara—10,000 words a week netted me a 105,000 word novel in ten weeks. For all that is happening external to this novel, for all that is happening inside the story, I need to give myself room to breathe. I set my session goal for 1,500 words, with an eye toward a completed first draft by March. A winter of writing in cafés and in the library’s bright and warm Reading Room.


A few days of hitting my target, even though it takes hours. Upon hours. I force myself to stay in the hardback chair at the library, draining the laptop battery, stomach groaning in hunger, eyes dry and throbbing. Nothing is coming easily. I reread, move scenes around. It’s there. There story is there. Too much brain dump exposition and back story—I know that, but I’ll find a way to fit it in later or get rid of it. I remind myself: stop editing, stop worrying whether what you’ve got works, keep writing until you get to what does.


And then yesterday. Doing what I knew I had to. Shifting my protagonist’s POV from first person to third. There is much about this story (entitled Tui (tōō-ē), a native bird of New Zealand and in my novel, the name of a child in need of wings to fly away) that is so personal to my life—not the events or the plot—but the emotions, the longings, the hurts. Yet, by keeping the protagonist’s voice in first person, I struggle to separate her “I” from my eye, her “me” from my own mind. So, Holly Dawes, welcome to the world. I’ll step back now and let you go your own way.


Today. Two hours, two thousand words. Time enough left over to run seven miles. To wash the car. To write a book review. To write this blog post. To get some perspective. To take the long view.


Taking the long view / Dordogne Valley / © Julie Christine Johnson 2014

Taking the long view / Dordogne Valley / © Julie Christine Johnson 2014

10 thoughts on “Taking the Long View

  1. Reading your writing, whether a blog post or a novel, is like eating a decadent dessert. I want to race through it because it’s so wonderful, but I also want savor every moment and make it last as long as possible. You have such a gift; I look forward to meeting Tui one day.


  2. Coincidently I’ve just started reading the novel I wrote last year (and haven’t been brave enough to look at since January – so it’s completely fresh to me) and the passages where I switch to first person are much more immediate and powerful than the rest of the drivel. So I was just today contemplating whether I could turn it all around. Not possible in my case. But wow, you’re writing fast and it’s great to read how you’re making progress. It’s inspirational, thank you. And I do enjoy your writing! N


    • Your writing is so beautiful, I doubt very much that there’s any drivel in your novel! Not long ago, I change an entire novel’s worth of POV. It made me cry, but the revision was worth the pain. And who knows? I may come to the end of this one and decide to change it all back-wish there was an app for that! Seriously- I may need to write the whole thing with some distance that 3rd allows and then re-engineer once the story is told. I’m very open to that. But I know I’ll keep stalling in my own story/life if I don’t let Holly run with it.

      I can’t wait to learn more about your writing journey with this novel-you are so wise to give yourself time and space. Peace to you!


  3. I just love your writing, Julie. Rich, descriptive, lovely. I so look forward to your voice with my Monday morning cup of coffee. I hope the future shift (whether small or seismic) brings you great success and lands a copy of your novels or short stories in my hands. Santé!


  4. I love how you talk about shifting from first person to third. I have been doing a lot of advocacy writing lately for survivors of abuse. I’ve found myself in this same conundrum. I try to stay true to what I know for all (or most) survivors and not make my personal voice stronger than my advocacy voice. Does that make sense. I think this is an idea though that will stay with me, as I try (and try again and again) to get back to writing short stories. Your posts always inspire me, one way or another and your writing is just so damn lovely. ~Dawn


    • Dawn, yes! There is an immediacy and intimacy to first person that I love, and honestly, it was with a lot of regret that I shifted to third person. But I know in my heart this story doesn’t belong to “I”, it belongs to “her.” I think it takes such skill to create a first person POV that doesn’t consume the story and I’m just not there, yet. It’s worked for me in short stories and I’ll keep practicing. I find release in third person, a level of honesty that comes with a certain detachment, and it allows me to be more generous with other characters.

      God, thank you so much! Your words mean the world to me!


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