Progress Update: A Writer’s Retreat To Unlock City of Quartz
It’s been forty-nine months since I published City of Light…
It’s been forty-three months since I started writing City of Quartz…
And I’m feeling every single one of those months like a pain in my gut because I have this magical story I want to tell. But it’s big and scary and I want to get it right. I have to write into the fear. I have to lean into it. Because that’s the only way to tell a story that truly means something. But as someone who lives with three anxiety disorders (generalised anxiety, social anxiety, and panic disorder) leaning into fear is especially HARD.
Some of those months passed with me anguishing over decisions I didn’t want to make. Or I’d make and then try to unmake. But no matter what I did I couldn’t make the original outline work. It didn’t tell the true story. It didn’t tell the right story. It tried to do too much and stepped too far away from what I’ve lived and known and the truth I wanted to share in this story.
But the months kept passing. I ran away from City of Quartz for a while to write and publish Spirit Talker. I ran away again as I worked a little on edits of Everlasting Sleep last November but I knew I couldn’t focus on finishing that until this book and book three of the Shadows of Nar are done. So as the months passed and no book was coming I was growing more and more desperate, and more and more afraid.
The thing is, fear grows in the spaces between thought and action. The more I sat frozen in my indecision and doubt, the more the fear grew. And grew. And grew.
Enough, was enough.
I guess my fortieth birthday was a little impetus to action. I realised that I wanted more from my writing career and that would require me to quit fear and get back to work. A little flush of income from the Educational Lending Rights of my other books gave me the opportunity to invest in a writing gift to myself…
A weekend away with a group of fabulous writers, in a beautiful place, with a lot of time to focus on the work. Four fabulous days. To figure out what City of Quartz truly needed to be. Which fears I must embrace. Which risks were absolutely necessary. Which journeys these characters truly needed to take to be armed for the finale.
Note: Some of the text in the pictures contain spoilers so don’t read too closely if you want to keep your surprises until you read the finished book!
Day One: Writing With A View
For a few blissful hours on the first day, I sat outside at a park bench. Beside me, children and their parents played. Ahead of me boats bobbed in the marina. The cool winter winds brought choppy waves and salty winds and the squarks of sea birds.
But on my desk sat a notepad, a box of index cards, an array of pens, and half a book typed up in Scrivener that just wasn’t quite working. So I decided I’d use each colour of the index cards to represent the four POV characters. I knew I had to tell there four individual hero’s journeys and the only way I could do it was to break it down in a way I could shuffle and shirt and move.
Day Two: Wet and Windy and Wild Outside
Day two proved to be full of wind and wet and a wild bluster of weather so after some fabulous workshops (including a blackout) and an incredible lunch with a dozen fellow writers I holed up in my cabin for a few hours to flesh out Niah’s story.
But the index cards weren’t quite enough. I needed to see the shape of her story so I pulled out my grid paper and drew up my rising tension. I mean there’s not a lot to rising tension, it’s just seeing the points of the hero’s journey in a way that shows the rise and lulls in the tension so that you know when a scene needs to amp up vs calm down. But it was a different way of turning the story over in my head. Of seeing the shape of Niah. Thankfully, the cards started coming together. Part by part her story unfolded.
Day Three: Secreted Away In Silence (With a Seagull)
The weather was a little kinder by day three. The sun occasionally shone between the clouds. I also had only intended to attend one of the two workshops this day which left me with several hours in the afternoon to myself. Most of the retreat writers had attended the second workshop and while my roomie retreated for an afternoon nap I snuck into the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre. It was mostly closed off and only a single caretaker stood manning the front. He was trying to shepherd a seagull back outside but the bird would have none of it.
I asked special permission to sneak up the other end of the room where I could hole up on a table out of sight, gazing out on the marina’s choppy waves, and spend a few idyllic hours in the quiet majesty of an almost empty building.
By now I’d gathered together quite a few cards and over the course of those few hours I fleshed it all out a bit more.
Day Four: Heading Home
By the night of Day Three I’d made significant progress. I felt so proud to have my scatter of cards. Four POVs, a romance sub-plot, and the true magic of this story. I knew I still had a long road ahead, the least of which was turning those index cards into scenes, but I had the story. The fear was reigned in. I knew what I had was special and I was excited to be moving forward with this book at last.
I’ve been home almost two weeks now and I try to get out of the house most days to work on the book.
There are 77 index cards here. I’ve managed to iron out the kinks of the first 30,000 words and I’m moving into blank page territory. So it’s getting a little scary again. But I know I have a great outline and as I type the words I try to hold onto the excitement rather than the fear.
I’m so looking forward to sharing this with my readers. I’m excited about the place this book will have in our culture and society in this era. I’m excited about the messages this book shares and the truths it tries to challenge.