Some years ago when I worked on the Love is Murder Mystery Readers/Writers Conference, I was lucky enough to meet Lee Child and hear him speak. And while he was charming, funny, and generous with his time, the one thing he said that stuck with me the most was when he mentioned running out of writing.
Lee Child, if you don't know him, writes the best-selling Jack Reacher series (although I hear he is stepping down after the most recently released Reacher book. So sad, but that's another conversation!)
Now, I have been reading his work since book one and was thrilled to hear him speak about his work and his process. It was fascinating to hear him address his worry that he might not be able to keep going within a book. He stated that with every novel he wrote, he was worried about not having any more story after about page forty. He worried that he would be able to tell his whole tale within those forty pages and that would be the end of the novel. And then what on earth would he hand over to his publisher?
I was struck by that observation on more than one level. First of all, the idea that someone like Lee Child could struggle with writing a novel was surprising. I realize academically that ALL writers struggle. Of course we do; it's part of the job. But to hear this consistent best-selling author come out and his personal fears was just mind-boggling to me.
Secondly, his statements switched on a light bulb over my head. I had never put the entire concept into words before, but he did it for me. At the back of my head, every time I work on my own books, I worry that I am going to run out of story before I reach the word count required for a full-length novel. It's a legitimate worry, believe me, when one is trying to create a series of incidents and events for characters and wondering if what is winding up on paper, as well as what is still being carried around mentally, will provide not only a coherent story, but a book-length one. Even as I write this, my thoughts are drifting toward my current work in progress, book seven in my series, and I keep thinking, yes, I know how the story ends but do I have enough content before I reach that ending? Do I need more? Am I missing a scene or two? Am I possibly even missing a character? It can get crazy in here!
Listening to Mr. Child speak about this particular fear was reassuring in its own way. Heck, if he can have worries like that, then maybe I'm not so far off the right path. (On the other hand, the demon in me whispers, if he has worries like that, what makes me think that someone like me could even hope to face down that very same situation? Again, a topic for another piece.)
In the end, Mr. Child said that the only thing to do is to write whatever is in your head, in your heart, and trust in both yourself and the process that there will be more story coming, certainly enough to round out the book.
I have to admit I've been hedging a bit with my newest story. Getting used to my new work hours, learning the job, dealing with a couple of health concerns, all of this has thrown various obstacles into the middle of my path. But I figure, Lee Child tossed me kind of a lifeline when he spoke so frankly about the writing life. The least I can do is hang onto that and keep going, right?