Puppies and Demons

May 2, 2017

This morning I had a battle with demons. It was quite gentlemanly. We all won.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’m at work on the next book in the Go-Giver series. In that post I chronicled the process of coming up with the first paragraph, which consisted of a single sentence that happened to be eleven words long.

After that post, I kept going. Once I’d drafted four chapters, I noticed something kind of weird: every one of those four chapters started with a paragraph that consisted of a single sentence. That was exactly eleven words long. Hmm. After finishing chapter 5, I checked the first paragraph: single sentence. Thirty-two words long. Thirty-two. Not eleven.

Whew. At least I wasn’t under some kind of terrible magic spell cast by the ghost of Spinal Tap.

Now here we are, a few weeks later. So far I’ve drafted eight chapters, and when I went to bed last night, I had chapter 9 three-quarters finished and chapter 10 in a sort of half-draft — a jumble of notes, scene ideas, and semi–sketched out dialogue.

I went to sleep excited about where it was all going.

(As you’ve probably guessed, here is where the “demons” part starts.)

Woke up this morning. Crept out of bed, wife still sleeping, made a cup of green tea. Took it to my favorite writing chair, sat back, picked up the printed-out semi-draft of chapter 10 that I’d laid out on my little writing table before going to bed last night, along with a pad of blank paper and a pen.

Ten minutes later, I’d leafed through my chapter semi-draft, and it was crap.

Too much dialogue. No action. Blah blah blah. Not enough going on. Nothing like the earlier chapters. Nothing to hold the reader’s interest (or even mine). Too repetitive. Not cohesive. Not convincing. In a word: crap.

But … I knew the basic idea for this chapter was good, right? I knew that.


Or was it? Maybe I had the wrong premise. Maybe I needed to rethink the chapter. Maybe I should do that right now. Start over.

No, I had an even better idea. I would scroll Facebook on my phone! It wasn’t writing, true, but still, it was … well, it was breathing. I scrolled Facebook on my phone. Found a standup comic on Conan’s show. Vir Das, his name is. Hilarious. Really, you should click on that link and enjoy it. I did.

I got up to make a second cup of tea.

I know these demons. I know these thoughts. What I’ve learned is to just sit with them, not try to stop them. Just watch them go by. The “This is crap” thoughts, the “Maybe the premise I thought was good yesterday doesn’t really work after all” thoughts. Even the “Hey, wouldn’t this be a great time to scroll Facebook on my phone” thoughts.

I know them all, know them well. I tolerate them, let them play around my feet, like a litter of puppies all chasing their tails and nipping at my fingers.

The key is … no, actually there are two keys.

The first key is, let them be. Don’t try to stop them or push them away. It just gives them more energy. And the second key is: don’t take them seriously. They’re not wild wolves. Just puppies. They can growl and nip, but they’re not dangerous. In fact, they’re cute as hell.

You have them too. I know you do. You may not be a writer, but it doesn’t matter. The thought-demons are everywhere. And this is critical. Do not take them seriously.

Because the truth, which I began to see only after sitting still for a while longer with my second cup of tea and moving my pen around on the blank paper a little bit, is that the draft was not crap. The premise was solid. An hour later, I had a real, honest-to-God chapter draft.

Now, chapter 10 is finished. And it’s awesome.

And I’m still chuckling over Vir Das.

1 Comment

  1. David Connon

    John, I love this post on your experience with writing a draft of Chapter 10. I especially like your sentence about the “demons” flashing across your mind, “They’re not wild wolves. Just puppies.”

    I’ve written a book of historical sketches, and I can relate to everything you described. Keep up the good work.


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