Guest Blogger: Jeff Abbott
There are two questions every writer will get once their work is out in the world: how long does it take you to write a book, and where do you get your ideas? What makes me smile about those well-intentioned questions is that they seem to assume the work is effortless—you come up with an idea, and then you draw an X on some distant square of the calendar when the book will auto-magically be done. But what I rarely get asked is: what is the hardest part of writing a book?
And of course there is no one answer to this; every writer is different. Some struggle mightily with beginnings; others pace trenches in the floor trying to tie all the threads together into a coherent ending. Some find the discipline of being alone, of engaging with their work to be difficult; others find researching their books to be a constant headache. Some find the middle to be a torture. But regardless of whichever part of the process is hardest for you, know this: that is your dragon, and you’d best be prepared to slay it.
When I started ADRENALINE—my twelfth novel—you might expect that at some point the process has gotten easier. Well, as Brad Meltzer aptly told us here on Janice’s blog, it doesn’t. It is never really easier. Mostly because as you write more, I think you aim higher, so the bar is never lowered due to experience. My own hardest part is the middle—when I approach it, I can almost feel the ground warming from the dragon’s breath. Doesn’t that sound, well, silly? I’ve written a lot of books,—how hard can it be to get through the middle of a book once you’ve put characters into action? But at a certain point as Act One wraps up and Act Two is underway, I start to feel the steam of the monster’s breath rise. I fret that I haven’t thought out the plot twists and they’ll unravel. I start to feel I don’t know the characters as well as I should. I start to think I have too much action, or too little. The outline I’ve sketched out seems too fragile. For the middle is the long hike, the trail of tears. So there are days where I stare off into space or rearrange my pencils or fall into the black hole of Twitter because I can’t figure out how to keep the book going. Which is terrible, because that means my dragon is not slain. I need to get past the hardest part.
But then it comes. A character does something true to herself, but still unexpected. A surprising connection is forged between two characters who lacked a tie before. A scene that changes everything comes to me in the predawn quiet. The ground cools, I wipe the dragon’s blood off my sword, and I’m back at a run. My wife has figured out I go through this with every book and she gently reminds me it’s simply part of the process—and always will be. Knowing that I have slain this same dragon a number of times before is reassuring. It may be more fearsome and fiery each time but I know I can pretend to be St. George and hack its head off. I have never failed to get through that inevitable wasteland.
The hardest part. For me it’s the middle. What is the hardest part for you?
Jeff Abbott is the international-bestselling, award-winning author of fourteen novels, including PANIC, COLLISION, and TRUST ME. His newest thriller, ADRENALINE, is just out and launches a new series featuring Sam Capra, a CIA agent who must go on the run to find his family and discover the truth about who kidnapped them. You can see Jeff talk about his new series and read more about ADRENALINE here.