It’s crisp outside this morning. I’m sitting with my office window open, the chirping of the birds floating in on the cool, soft autumn air.
I’ve made myself a second cup of coffee and dug out my fluffy house shoes from the back of the closet.
And I’m writing.
Unlike the end of summer, when the heat sank into my bones and exhausted the ideas in my head before they had the chance to move out onto the page, the fall has brought with it a renewed sense of inspiration.
Today, I’m feeling strong enough to write the climax.
I had coffee with my writing partner a few days ago. The velocity of life has hammered at us both recently, and we’ve been skipping our meetings in favor of coping with that haste. But yesterday, amid a bustle of deadlines and obligations, we carved out some time to talk.
And it was the most important thing I’ve done for myself in a while.
Just like the cool, calm stimulus of fall, I can count on my friend to gently nudge me forward.
And she reminded me that, on the cusp of the climax, I always doubt myself. This, apparently, is my process.
I linger on everything that is wrong with the work, allowing it to tire me out, to slow me down. Because, once the climax hits, everything I’ve built up to this point will scatter out in all directions, then hit a peak of tension, before the falling action eases the story into closure.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But the problem is this: I’m not confident I’m ready for it. There is building tension, to be sure. Characters have been established, as they collide with each other in moderate conflict. Motivations have been suggested. But I’m not sure the characters are prepared enough for the climax just yet. I’m worried the scattered pieces won’t all fall back into place correctly.
It’s like nursing an animal, raising it and loving it, and then releasing it into the wild.
And clearly I’m scared.
And I have to work through that.
But, as my writing partner reminds me, I always do. (Have I mentioned how much I adore this woman?) I always get scared and back off for a bit. And then, something happens. The weather changes, the pressing on my chest lifts, and I’m able to push through it. But my process dictates I cower in the wings for a while before I can power through.
This stage of the process lasted a lot longer the first time around, when writing Wildfire.
I remember thinking my characters were dry and flat, with no real sense of purpose. They disappointed me because I wanted them to be more than what they were.
But you can’t display a character’s strength without putting them in a position to discover it.
But, of course, I was scared. Diving into the pinnacle of conflict is never easy.
And then, at the beginning of September two years ago, a record-breaking wildfire broke out, engulfing the nearby town of Bastrop, TX. By the end of that month, the fire had claimed over 1,600 homes, more than 34,000 acres of land, and the lives of two volunteer firefighters.
As it usually is, the shock of natural disaster was quickly followed by a rising of community to action. Firefighters came from surrounding metros and states to help fight a fire they couldn’t seem to conquer. The newspapers were filled with stories of volunteers bringing food and supplies to the victims, of neighboring towns offering shelter to the thousands of now-homeless fire victims. A collection station was set up in our town square – and I imagine most of the town squares around us – and for weeks, moving trucks and trailers were weighed down with supplies. At some point, they had to start turning away donations and instead were asking for monetary contributions. They just couldn’t handle the volume.
The stories of these people – the victims of the fire and the people who took it upon themselves to reach out and help – inspired something new in the book. I wanted to share these stories – to illustrate the courage that is possible in human beings.
What is the courage to write, I thought, compared with the courage to fight against a menacing threat that cannot be contained or predicted?
What a pansy I was.
So I sat down and wrote the climax. The initial draft of Wildfire, which did not yet bear that name, did include a damaging fire, but its origin was not certain. Because I hadn’t figured it out yet. I considered arson, but I couldn’t find the motivation for that. I considered freak accident, but the details were not immediately apparent to me. All I knew was the fire was important.
And it was. In fact, it turned out to be so important; I named the book after it.
So what if we aren’t ready? No one is ready when disaster hits. That’s kind of the point, isn’t it – to find out what you are made of when you aren’t prepared?
So I’m going to suck it up and dive in. And see what strength my own character holds.