It was time to write the next novel. I sent my agent a half-dozen story ideas, she picked one (fortunately the story behind which I had the most energy), and asked me to write the first fifty pages.
The seed of the story originally came to me in high school. I had been tinkering with the idea for years. I’d even gone as far as writing the first few pages. When my agent asked for the first fifty pages, it didn’t take me long to get momentum behind it. Even after I turned in the first fifty pages, I kept going. Ideas were spouting in my head like mushrooms after a rainstorm and I couldn’t wait to commit them to paper. The creative process had begun.
Then my agent sent me her feedback. She liked the story, but thought the very first chapter should be moved to later in the story. Maybe I could start the novel at the current Chapter Three.
Hmmm. Okay, then. I understood what she wanted: Start the story closer to what Joseph Campbell called The Call to Adventure.
I revised chapter one. Again. And again. And again. I handed the results to my test readers, all of whom read the revisions and just shook their heads. What was wrong with the original opening? They loved that opening. That’s what made them fall in love with the characters. True, the new Chapter Ones started closer to the “action,” but these chapters were less impactful because my readers didn’t really care about the characters.
Weeks went by. I wrote outlines and character profiles. I researched my setting. I read books on story structure. I worked on the edits for my then soon-to-be-published novel, Aftersight. I made more sorties revising Chapter One. My story just wouldn’t get off the ground. It was like those stuttery black-and-white films of early flying machines, where the wings fall off after takeoff, or the aircraft plunges straight off the cliff and into the rocks below. Months went by and I had very little actual material to show for my efforts.
Finally, I decided that I just had to write the thing. Maybe I really had started the story where it was supposed to start, I just hadn’t written it in a way that was impactful enough. Just do it! I thought, quoting the old Nike tag line from the 1980s. That line was always so full of punch: Stop thinking. Stop the excuses. Just do it. Just write it!
The moment I made that decision, the story took off again, better now than ever. I am still in the middle of it, still driving through the night, my headlights only showing the landscape just ahead of me,but I know my destination is out there, somewhere, in the dark.
Brian Mercer is the author of the supernatural YA novel, Aftersight (Astraea Press, 2013). He is also co-author with Robert Bruce of Mastering Astral Projection: 90-Day Guide to Out-of-body (Llewellyn, 2004) and The Mastering Astral Projection CD Companion (Llewellyn, 2007). A board member of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association and senior editor at Author Magazine, he lives in Seattle with his wife, Sara, and their three cats.