Monday, February 1, 2010

Searching For Joan Wilder

We've all seen the movie, right? ROMANCING THE STONE – Romance author Joan Wilder sets out on an adventure to save her sister in South America. A city girl to the core, it's only with Jack Colton's assistance that she's able to win out in the end. It has Danny Devito as the despicable but somehow loveable nemesis, the scary Hispanic general-type dude that's after them the entire time. The South American drug lord who just so happens to be a HUGE fan of Joan's books. It's fun, it's romantic…GREAT movie for all kinds of reasons.

This post is about the opening scene. The one where Joan is finishing off one of her novels—some sort of western romance. She's writing, she's writing, the voice over for a rather cheesy scene where a cowboy literally mounts a horse with the damsel in distress in his arms. (Hey, it's fiction, right?) But what happens when the story ends?

They cut to Joan at her typewriter and she promptly bursts into tears and exclaims, "God, that's good!"

By far one of my favorite movie moments. Why? Because I have SO been there. And…because I SO crave to be there again. (I wish I had a clip of it!)

I honestly don't know that non-writers understand the enormity of what it means to write a book. I think it's one of those things that you have to experience in order to fully grasp what it takes to get to the end: The endless hours of staring at a blank screen, pulling out each word like a stubborn tooth. The high you experience when the words flow out like water onto the page. The excitement of seeing a small thread of an idea turn into pages, and then more pages…and then finally a bona fide story! I've never done drugs in my life, but I'm betting the thrill of typing 'the end' far surpasses anything pharmaceutical induced.

There's also the flipside: No one can write your story for you. You can't do it by committee, you can't phone it in. No little elves are going to sneak into your room in the middle of the night and flesh out your words for you. It's hard work. It takes dedication. You have to make sacrifices – be it passing on time with friends or family, making do with less sleep every night so you can pound out an extra page or two…staying indoors when beautiful weather is demanding you become a part of it.

Then there's the fact that some people just don't understand that in order to write you HAVE to be alone inside your head. How some people don't understand that writing doesn't always run like clockwork… that sometimes it takes hours and hours of writing complete shit before you manage to salvage a small bit that MIGHT be good enough for the final book. I'm not blaming anyone. I certainly wouldn't know what it takes to be a concert pianist or any one of a million other time-intensive pursuits. That's why having friends who write is so, so important at times. You need people who understand what it hard it is… and of course, at the other end of the spectrum: how great it feels to reach a certain milestone…to nail a scene you've worked so hard and long on. To get to The End.

When I finished my first novel, I remember just sitting there for a few solid minutes – a little stunned and amazed that I had finally typed the words 'the end.' The moment was surreal…out of focus. I had FINISHED. I Had Done It! Written a friggin' book and it was perfect, and amazing, and I loved everything about it.

But then, reality began to sink in— My mind flooded with memories of all the hard work I had put in, the self-doubts I had wrestled with for so long, the exhaustion and struggles of making time out from real life to dive into this other world whole-heartedly… The fact that this story was over, and I would be leaving this world (ha) for good. HOLY HELL, I would have to begin the next story from scratch...

That, my friends, is when I burst into tears.

LOL. That may sound like I wasn't up for the challenge of starting again. Quite the opposite, in fact. It was just a couple of months later that I plunged head first into my next novel. And since then I've found that starting isn't nearly as scary as finishing. (g) But that, alas, is a subject for another day.

So, if you've finished a novel – did you cry? Share your stories; I'd love to hear them. J

For the record, I have cried with every draft of FAKING IT as well as when I finished BY THE PALE MOONLIGHT.

I'm Joan Wilder in the flesh. (g)


  1. Great post Jen. I got every word of it. As for my story...
    Now that Roulette is "finished" I have cried many nights in the past two weeks. Staring into words I can no longer be objective about and knowing that I have to be objective--especially right now!--is agonizing. Wondering what I can do to make it a million times better than it is, even more so.
    But, the crying is for so many reasons ;)

  2. Excellent post, Jen.

    I didn't cry when I finished Blood of the Heart - prolly cos that moment came at 3am, after a marathon all-day and nearly all-night writing stint, and I was just too bloody numb and exhausted for the moment to register! LOL

  3. I feel like there's something wrong with me cos I didn't cry - but maybe that's cos I write in such chunks? I do miss writing about Austin and Kedi though :-)