My first suspense novel, Shrink Rapt, took me eight years to complete, an arduous and gratifying accomplishment. As a psychologist, I value life lessons, especially when they come in the form of paradox. Slogging through to the finish taught me three vital things.
Nobody likes hitting a wall, yet we all face clueless moments that seem to go on forever. As I wrote my latest thriller, Suffer Little Children, I had only the vaguest idea how my story would end, even as I was finishing the first draft. By then, I’d had lots of experience with being stuck, so I trusted I’d figure it out, as long as I kept inching forward. For any author, writer’s block comes with the territory. In its grip, you doubt your subject matter, your talent, yourself. The wall becomes your mortal enemy, proof that everything you achieved before was a fluke. The only way out of being stuck is to befriend the wall. It wants to tell you something. Pass through it, and a door opens, allowing you to see new and creative solutions. The next wall won’t seem as high. A roadblock isn’t a dead end, but a signal to find a new direction.
A detailed outline of my intended story line serves as my scaffold for constructing novels. But as I write, my characters demand to reveal unexpected secrets about themselves, or head in directions I didn’t anticipate. When I let them steer, they drive the story to intriguing new places. Even the best plans are enhanced by a dose of spontaneity. Bring your road map, but don’t pass up a scenic detour.
When I don’t admit something intimidates me – whether it’s starting a new chapter or driving to an unfamiliar place – I’m likely to avoid doing it. Avoidance and shame are two sides of a coin. Tell yourself you shouldn’t be afraid, and you’ll only feel ashamed that you are, leading to even more avoidance. Acknowledging fear makes us braver. Even a baby step forward – say, writing the first paragraph of the chapter – tames the task and builds confidence. Courage starts with cowardice.
Freda Hansburg is a psychologist and author of Suffer Little Children, Shrink Rapt and Tell on You, Winner of the 2020 Independent Press Award for Psychological Thriller, the 2019 New York City Big Book Award for Suspense and Thriller Finalist in the 2019 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She is co-author of the bestseller, PeopleSmart: Developing Your Interpersonal Intelligence, a self-help book translated into a dozen languages. Freda lives on Hilton Head Island, where she is working on her next suspense novel, Trick or Treat, and her Pickleball game.