3 Things I Didn’t Want to Learn But Did, Writing Side Effects
Today the author copies of Side Effects arrived in the mail. Ninety-thousand two-hundred and seventeen words – beautifully formatted, professionally edited, and wrapped in the most gorgeous, perfect cover I could’ve ever hoped for. When you hold a finished book in your hands, it feels effortless. Like the story just appeared somehow, was transcribed by the author, and then sent off to be packaged up for bookshelves everywhere. It feels that way, but anyone who’s ever aspired to write a book knows that it isn’t. Not even close.
The truth is, I never thought I’d hold this particular book in my hands. As I write this, it’s still a bit of a wide-eyed, blinking wonder to see it completed. Side Effects was the book I always wanted to write – an enemies-to-lovers story with a magnificently razor-sharp MC, who you love most when he’s at his worst. That untouchable, slightly damaged, beautiful-in-a-scorpion-sort-of-way, secretly honorable man who steals every scene he’s in.
And then, a year into the writing (!), I realized I had no idea how to tell a story in which one MC has a secret that the other needs to discover – and more importantly, that the reader needs to discover. I’d never written a story like this before. My progress slowed. Words became arduous. Full chapters felt forced and problematic. Though I very much didn’t want to believe it, I was coming to suspect that my first-person dual-POV format was a problem. A big one. I was stuck.
And then came COVID – that year we’d all like to forget when we were sheltering in place, and scouring the internet for toilet paper, and trying to figure out how to do work and school in an overstuffed house. And it turns out that fearing for the safety of oneself and one’s family, along with worrying whether one’s entire job might disappear can have a rather negative impact on creativity and inspiration. As Virginia Woolf so aptly put it, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
As such, my high hopes of spending the pandemic in a whirlwind of creative output evaporated on the wind. My book and I blinked at each other in a silent stand-off throughout 2020 – both thinking the other was crap. It was clear that one of us was going to have to give. (Me. It was going to have to be me.) If I was going to get this book written – and I was too stubborn not to (See also: writer’s best and worst quality) – I was going to have to learn some things. Painful things.
1. The story, not the writer, dictates the format. Nearly two years in, I stopped fighting that little nagging voice in my head that, of course, already knew this, because those voices are always right. I put on my big-girl pants and cut more than half of those hard-won chapters. Tens of thousands of words from Marcus’s POV gone from the text. It was heartbreaking, terrifying, dispiriting, and also exactly what the book needed in order for the tension in the story to finally come through. I’d been twisting myself into knots trying to keep Marcus honest as a narrator while not allowing him to give away The Secret. It simply wasn’t possible. The story didn’t work if Marcus co-narrated it. So all but two of his chapters were cut – months and months of agonizing work sent to my Deleted file. But when it was done, an enormous weight had been lifted. The book began to take a new shape, a far better shape because the story could finally be told in the way it was always meant to be told.
2. There are no shortcuts to a strong ending. There’s nothing quite like getting three-quarters of the way through writing a novel and realizing you still have absolutely no clue how it’s going to end. It’s not an uncommon problem. How many books have you read in which the writer just seems to throw in the towel and has the resistant lover suddenly show up on her man’s doorstep and tell him she’s decided to forgive him for everything because *love*? Or when the guy who couldn’t have been anywhere nearby actually did hear that crucial conversation and is now jarringly revealed to be the Big Baddie, after all. No one likes when writers do that. It’s cheating.
But I’ll admit (just between us) that there was more than one moment during the writing of Side Effects when I was tempted to pull the ‘change-of-heart’ ripcord and just be done. (Oh, no, of course I intended that character to be a murderous psychopath all along!) After all, we were in a pandemic, for God’s sake, and this book had already been a monster to write, and I was tired. But when I thought about taking an easier way out, that little voice (there it was again!) told me no. Emphatically no. It may have even used some unsavory words to make the point. Because in my heart, I knew my characters deserved (and readers deserved) a more nuanced ending that was believable, authentic, and engaging. The ending of Side Effects didn’t come easily. There was no lightning strike of creativity. It was a slog every day. I still don’t know how it happened but somehow the story found that small patch of grass in the clearing between the rocks and the hard places. It was a rough landing, but looking back, an intensely gratifying one. The resolution allowed my characters to stay ‘in character’ all the way through – they never do or say anything that would cause a reader to think, they wouldn’t do that – and they arrive at a place that feels deeply satisfying. And a little bit magical, if I’m being honest, because the writing process is a mysterious thing – to no one more than the writer, herself. The moral here is this: Don’t pull the ripcord. Crash if you have to, and then just fix the damned thing.
3. Perseverance is everything. If the above two lessons say anything, it’s this: writing is hard. Sometimes it’s totally unsatisfactory. But the only way to write a book is *apparently* to write it. I wish there was an easier way. I haven’t found one. So even on those days when I felt like a monkey hammering away at the keyboard, when the ideas wouldn’t come, and the dialog was terrible, and COVID was terrible, and nothing came out like I saw it in my head, I just kept going. Too stubborn not to. There were chapters that took weeks to write. They were just wrong until they weren’t, and the only thing to do was to keep working them, every day. Just keep getting the story down and have a little faith that eventually, somehow, I’d get to what I intended (See above: mystery). It was ugly a lot of the time but that’s what I did. Had I not, I wouldn’t be holding Side Effects today. I’m not sure what I’m prouder of – the book itself, or simply that I finished it. Both, really, and I’m not ashamed to admit that.
This lesson of perseverance isn’t terribly insightful, nor is it game-changing or earth shattering in any way. It’s just true. It’s just so overwhelmingly true that we as writers have to learn it over and over and over again. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t think we have it in us. We can never allow ourselves to forget it because the moment we do, we close our laptops, say unkind words to ourselves, and let the hard days win.
Side Effects by LJ Greene
Publication date: December 13th 2021
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Who can you trust?
Ally Michels is fresh out of her MBA program at Cal and has landed her dream job at hot, up-and-coming video game developer, Jet Stream Studios, all thanks to her uncle, Jet’s largest venture capital investor. She’s feeling pretty good about her future until an inadvertent blurt in a company meeting brings down upon her the dangerous attention of Jet’s co-founder and chief developer, Marcus Abby.
Beautiful, brilliant, and vicious, Marcus is every bit the arrogant, deceitful founder her uncle warned her about. But in the power-fueled world of venture capital investing, things aren’t always what they seem. When Ally finds herself caught up in a play for corporate control, she must work with Marcus to save the company and an ideal she believes in, while navigating perilous family loyalties and fighting to hold onto her own integrity.
For Ally, there’s just one rule: never, ever trust Marcus Abby. Because the one man she needs to stop a high-stakes plot is the one man who has every reason to want her gone.
SIDE EFFECTS is an adult contemporary, twisty, underhanded, certainly unscrupulous . . . romance.
Romance author, obsessive multi-tasker, California native, music lover with no apparent musical talent, travel enthusiast, and cheese connoisseur.
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