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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When Stories Don’t Cooperate

So last year I started a new project. My romantic YA thriller series was winding down, and it was time for something new. I had several ideas I’d been toying with for a few years, but then out of nowhere, an entirely new concept came to me. Just one little sentence, but I loved it. My editor loved it. There was so much potential….

Off I went. Awesome new characters, my first ensemble cast. An utterly fantastic settling. A super cool premise…

I wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

And deleted, and deleted, and deleted.

My editor said, “Hurry!”

I wrote some more.

Deleted some more.

And my frustration grew. I had all the ingredients at my fingertips, and they were perfect. But no matter how I tried to put them together, the result was not what I wanted. I tried different combinations. I tweaked. I experimented with various openings. Deleted some scenes. Tossed out a few characters, whipped up a few new ones. Still…meh. It was like having a counter full of sugar and flour and eggs and butter, baking soda and pecans and chocolate chips and vanilla...and knowing they would make an amazing cookie…but having no idea how to make it happen. I wanted to pull my hair out.

Finally, I had to submit something. I made it the best I could, and hit send. It was okay, I guess. It didn’t suck. My agent gave it a thumb’s up. My editor loved it. The publisher green-lighted the project. An offer came….

…but I felt no sense of excitement, not like when I sold my Midnight Dragonfly series, when I was breathless with the thought of bringing the story of my teenage psychic to life. This time I felt…dread. It all just felt so…wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

When I first started in this business, I never imagined turning down an offer from a publisher, much less my dream publisher (and my dream editor), but in the end, that’s what I had to do. Because…something was wrong, and I knew it. (Admittedly, the offer wasn’t over-the-top-great or anything, but still…it was a publishing contract!)

Flash forward a year, and suddenly I find myself practically bursting out of my skin to write that story, the one that nearly killed me last year…the one that just wasn’t working. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it…or not. While days and weeks and months have gone by, the story has swirled around in the back of my mind, and my subconscious has done that amazing, wonderful thing that subconsciouses do. The story has changed. A lot. A little here, a little there. Some big Ah-ha’s!, and some little ones. Same characters, same setting, same premise, but with time, the ingredients have settled into place, and I finally know how they need to be arranged.

And here’s what I’ve come to realize: writing is a whole lot like cooking.

Have you ever made a soup, or maybe a lasagna, or a chili or a gumbo? And you add all the ingredients just so and serve it up, take that first bite, and…meh, it’s just kinda bland? But then the next day, after sitting over night, and all those flavors having a chance to mix and mingle and settle, you heat it up and try again and….voila! Yes. THAT is how it’s suppose to taste.

Writing is the same way. Sometimes a story needs time to simmer for awhile, to sit on the back burner so all the ingredients can settle together in just the right way. If everything doesn’t come together at first, you can’t give up, you just have to realize that stories, like the best of foods or drink, can’t be rushed. Remember Orson Wells's famous commercial for Paul Masson wine? 

"We will sell no wine before its time."

In today's fast-paced publishing environment, there's such a rush to market, but sometimes you just have to slow down and let the story finish cooking. 


  1. As I was reading your post -- which is so true, comparing writing to a soup pot -- I was thinking about that line from the wine commercial. Totally true. Sometimes you just can't force an idea into existence.

  2. Good on you for turning down the offer rather than just going ahead. Even if it was horrible at the time, if it's coming to you so much better now, it will definitely be worth the wait, much like waiting for a meal to cook as you said :D

  3. Good for you! Wonderful blog. As a reader, I appreciate that you waited until the story came together. I'd rather eat cookies instead of raw dough!

  4. Great post, Ellie! And so true. You know I'm a huge believe in the subconscious (which works 24/7), and also in waiting until the time is right. It sounds like it's perfectly right for you now :-) I can't wait to read these fabulous stories!

  5. Ellie, wonderful post. I so relate to the cooking comparison. Our subconscious is amazing, isn't it? Thank heavens it keeps working for us. Best wishes for your new series.


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