Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.

For an entire week, the story had been making me miserable.

False starts, terrible phrasing, weak transitions…they were all present and accounted for. I knew I had a powerful story to tell; I just didn’t know how to tell it.

“You need to figure out what you want to say,” my friend said.

But how? It was too complicated to fit into the neat 1500 words the writing contest required. I continued to beat my head against the keyboard, growing more and more frustrated.

“I’m thinking of giving up on this one,” I told my friend. “It’s really upsetting me.”

“Then do it,” she said. “You’ve already written a story for the contest. You don’t need two.”

She was right. I didn’t need to write it. But I’ve been reading a lot lately about how our society has come to confuse effort with pain. If it isn’t quick and easy, we won’t bother. If we’re not instantly good at something, most of us aren’t willing to put in the time to get better.

This goes double for anyone who learned as a child that things came easily, whether that meant good marks without much studying, amazing athletic ability without practice, or getting published in Grade Four.

The problem with only doing what comes easy is that we miss out on a lot of amazing experiences, plus all those nebulous goodies like character building and discipline–not to mention the opportunity to add new strengths and skills to our repertoire.

I hate quitting. Someone told me when I was a kid that I “never finished anything,” and it stuck. I may whine about quitting, but as soon as someone agrees with me, I dig my heels in. Nope, can’t quit.

And the truth is, quitting would make me feel more miserable than trying and failing, anyways.

This week I sat down to give the story another try, and this time the words came easily. I wrote the entire thing in under three hours, and then wondered why it had been so simple. Had I phoned it in? Was it crap?

I emailed the story to my copy editor. He phoned me within the hour.

“It’s phenomenal,” he said–a word he’d never before used to describe my work. “It’s so powerful. I don’t want to touch it.”

So why the change? Why did I spend a week agonizing over this project, only to finish it without a single qualm the next?

Simple. When I was beating my head against the keyboard, venting to my writers’ group, and complaining to friends, I was processing the story. I was thinking about how I wanted to tell it, and even though I thought I didn’t have any of the answers, some part of my brain was puzzling it out.

Finishing that story felt wonderful. I was elated. And if I’d quit, I’d have strengthened the belief that anything difficult is not worth the time.

Have you ever been tempted to quit? Did you stick with it, and what were the results? Please share your story in the comments. Thanks for reading!

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  1. G.R. LeBlanc

    Great post, Holli! As writers, we need to trust not only ourselves, but also in the stories we tell, and in the process of writing. 🙂 Good luck with the contest, too!

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Thanks so much, Gisele. I appreciate the comment. I agree, but I think this advice could help anyone, writer or not. It’s much easier to give up, but the cost is higher.

      Thanks for commenting!

    • G.R. LeBlanc

      Oh for sure, on the advice helping anyone, writer or not! That’s just where my mind was when I commented. I’ve given up on so many stories and writing projects over the years so it’s the area where this advice resonates with me the most. 🙂

    • Holli Moncrieff

      That’s awesome! Always glad when my posts resonate with someone.

  2. Stephanie Faris

    I think we all go through that with EVERY manuscript, right? There’s that moment where you’re done. You’re going to give up and toss it away. Then you get past that and the book is stronger for it. If you don’t push past it, you’ll never know what that book could have been…

    • Holli Moncrieff

      Agreed. I call them the “middle of the book blues,” but sometimes it happens at the beginning too. But this particular struggle was even worse. It was affecting my mood when I wasn’t writing. It truly made me miserable.


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