It was a story I had carried in my heart for nearly ten years, a tale taken from my direct experience as a teenager. I began to scribble scenes in tiny little notebooks that went with me everywhere; I even sneaked a few feverishly written paragraphs during Applied Math class. (How about we keep that incriminating knowledge just to the blog followers? I wouldn’t want to get in trouble almost 15 years laterJ). But in all seriousness, I eat, slept, went to school, and participated in music rehearsals with the story ever-present in my mind. There were many scenes I had yet to script on paper, and those unwritten pages screamed to be created. I would fall asleep with my characters foremost in my thoughts, and it was almost as if a movie was being acted out. I could see the characters— their physical appearance, the interior of their house, the car they drove, the activities they participated in; it was all so vivid.
But then college happened. My days were filled with seemingly endless homework assignments, group projects, and choir rehearsals. Sometimes, I squeezed in a little writing on Sundays, but it was frustrating not to be able to create. I found that my characters were no longer as vivid and the storyline had begun to get fuzzy.
Then as my college days came to an end, I had the opportunity to write a novella for one of my final English major requirements. For a fleeting moment, my thoughts centered on my teenage-influenced story, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t the right course of action. So I started over and went in a completely different direction— crafting a work of historical fiction based on true events in 1899 New Richmond, Wisconsin. It was fulfilling, motivating, and exhilarating… almost to the point where I forgot about my first book.
Fast forward about two years later. Beyond the Fury and St. Croix Chronicles had both been released, and I was facing an empty space in my schedule. So I decided to organize my storage unit, and that’s when I found them— the tiny notebooks with my hurried scribble— all containing the bits of story that I had long since shoved aside.
I was hooked once more and ready to jump in with both feet. I committed to making it my project for 2010, and I got started by reading through each notebook, taking notes, and finally crafting an outline. Then I set to work, utilizing that outline as I began to write. For the most part, I followed the outline, but sometimes it was necessary to deviate a little bit— or a lot.
The writing was going so well that I had the book done well before my prescribed deadline, and I handed the completed creation over to my editor. It took nearly six months for us to weigh our options in terms of publication, but in the end, we made the decision to go with the company that had released my first two books. I was excited and so ready! After ten long years, this book was finally going to press.
But then, a pretty major flaw within the climax of the plot was brought to my attention, and I was crushed. The scene in question utilized copyrighted song lyrics, and I didn’t have the time or money to seek out permission for the rights. So what was I going to do? I tossed and turned seemingly all night long as I considered my options. My stomach knotted with anxiety. That scene was so pivotal; the entire storyline hinged on this one conversation between the two main characters. How could I possible re-write it? Could I just re-write that scene, or would I have to re-work the entire plot? My outline gave me very little guidance; in my eyes, the book was complete thanks to that scene, and I wasn’t willing to let it go.
But in the end, I had no other options. Up against a March 31 deadline in the middle of February, I knew it was either now or never. So the next morning, I sat down at the computer to see what could be done. In the end, it wasn’t too difficult; only about ten pages of text had to be re-worked or completely re-written. My stomach still clenched with anxiety and I wasn’t sure if the scene would be as powerful as it once was; but if I wanted the book to be released, I had to let go of my preconceived plans.
I thought of this pivotal point in my writing career as I was out on my tricycle the other day. I was coming home from the Farmer’s Market, and other than a few last-minute details to iron out for the upcoming Sunday worship service, I didn’t have anything pressing on my schedule. I was eager to get home, curl up with a book and a cup of coffee, and enjoy the cool breeze coming in through the open patio door. But something about that plan didn’t seem quite right. And this was strange because it was no different than any other Saturday. The day before the Sabbath was always flexible for me— time for me to clean the house, go out with friends, catch up on practicing, and yes, curling up with that book and coffee. So what was wrong with that plan for this Saturday in question?
In an instant I knew why I was so restless. I had just concluded four sessions of StrengthsFinder coaching, and in my final session, I set a goal. I won’t go into detail about the nature of this goal, but I will say that it has a lot to do with relationship development. I will admit that relationships are difficult for me for three main reasons: 1) I am pretty guarded in the connections I make, 2) I thrive on achieving and busyness, so I don’t often take the time to reach out, and 3) I don’t want to develop a connection, only to find that I have become a burden to this individual based on what I might need from them (rides, help around the house, etc).
But that Saturday morning, the goal was crystal clear and I knew what I needed to do. The only problem, however, was that I still wanted to go home to that book and cup of coffee. It was quiet, safe, and controlled at home. In terms of crafting an outline, that’s how the story was supposed to go: no surprises, no copyright issues, and a perfect ending. But as my tires crunched over the rock that had recently been laid to patch the road, I found myself turning into a nearby driveway instead of continuing straight home.
I parked, knocked on a door, and was welcomed in. An hour later, I had managed to enjoy coffee after all, for the one who had invited me inside had laid out coffee and raisin bread to add to our impromptu visit. In the end, I got home later than expected, and my day didn’t materialize in the way I had anticipated, but the change-up was worth it. Relationships can be challenging, but they can be rewarding too. Imagine if I hadn’t stopped along the road that day? I would have followed my preconceived plan and missed out on something meaningful.
Sometimes, you just have to set aside the outline and figure it out as you go along. Often, the unscripted moments are the ones that end up making it into the final draft. Years later, I’m sure I will look back on a time such as this and be grateful that I took that chance. After all, I have a feeling that the Saturday morning visit in question was what God had planned to me all along, and I don’t want to question his sovereign plan. In terms of my life story, He is the writer, and nothing surprises Him. I may not be able to see Him at work in every circumstance, but He holds the pen, and it is my job to let Him create. It’s time to trust Him; He’s got this.