Getting Unstuck (or why I started this business)

getting-unstuckOkay, this is embarrassing to admit.

I’ll just come out and say it.

Nine years.

That’s right, nine years. That’s how long it took me to write my novel Java Wake and get it published. I started it during a jet lag-induced, early morning writing session in April of 2006. Our family had just moved back to Indonesia after a long medical leave and I guess I had a lot of pent up creative energy. It just started pouring out of me that early, restless morning.

I kept on here and there, inspired by John Grisham’s daily goal of writing 1,000 words a day, and plowed through chapter after chapter.

And then I got stuck. Because I didn’t outline the chapters ahead of time, I didn’t really know where the story was going and I picked up too many characters along the way toward the book’s complicated climax. I wrote myself into a corner, not being able to figure out how to solve all the plot tensions I had baked into the many characters. The 100,000-word novel felt to me like a humongous knot impossible to untie.

I tried to tighten it up without untying the whole knot. But when I gave out early versions to friends, my suspicions were confirmed. Although they enjoyed the story and the backdrop, they couldn’t keep track of all those characters. I couldn’t blame them…I couldn’t either and I was the author!

And that’s where it stayed, for years. A big, tangled ball of knotted up string in the corner of my life. I felt embarrassed that I had started something so time consuming that I wasn’t able to finish.

Before I resolve that plot tension, let me say that’s how a lot of aspiring writers I know feel…stuck. They had this creative idea and they finally started writing it out in a semi-disciplined way. For a season they made it to the coffee shop and drank tall lattes of inspiration while getting more and more words down on that growing document. They gathered the courage to tell their friends and family that they had started writing a book. Wow, good for you! They started dreaming of actually finishing this toiled-over manuscript and getting it published one day. And then the stuckage creeped in. Now they hope those same friends and family don’t ask them about it anymore.

java-wake-white-boardI finally summoned the will power to get unstuck. I hung a white board right above my desk and outlined the chapters. I wrote down all the characters and plotted them all out on a big timeline. There were so many names and squiggly lines on that white board that one friend assumed it was an emergency evacuation plan for our community. That’s what if felt like to me…an evacuation plan out of my stuckage! The realization finally stared me in the face that I was going to have to take out of a bunch of those characters, who had become like my imaginary friends, and delete about the last third of the book. So long imaginary friends and all traces of you. That was tough. That was a lot of rewriting. A resolve rose in me though, that come writer’s block or high water, I was going to cross the finish line and get this book in print.

I think if I had a little help, someone to walk with me through the process, and show me a glimmer of light at the end of the long publishing tunnel, I could have done it a lot faster. I could have shaved a few years off that excruciatingly long process.

And that’s why I started this little business, to help aspiring writers cross that published author finish line.

I gotta say, it’s so worth it to get to that finish line. Having that first batch of books delivered to your doorstep is a bright burst of ecstatic joy. If you could somehow taste a little of that thrill ahead of time, I think it would motivate you to keep plodding through the stuckage.

Keep on plodding people! Get unstuck!

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate and director of Mantap Publishing

P.S. Some people have asked me what “mantap” means. It’s an Indonesian word, pronounced mäntäp (like the “a” in father), which literally means steady, solid or sound. The connotation for that word in Indonesia is much stronger, though, used after things like drinking a delicious cup of coffee and wanting to express satisfaction in the fullness of its flavor. It’s said as an exclamation of delight: mantap! That is the essence I am wanting to deliver in this business, giving clients that same satisfying fullness of flavor when they finish and those books hit their doorstep. Ahhhh.

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