Does Your Story Have a Solid Foundation?

By SUE COLETTA

Most writers know this business can be soul-crushing at times, even if we don’t like to talk about it. As can life. This past week, my husband and I secured a mortgage and were over-the-moon excited to close on Friday. The house we’ve been living in for almost 7 years would finally be ours. On Wednesday, we received a call that told us the house had been deemed unsellable. Briefly, 30 years ago a mobile home stood on the land. Rather than remove the old mobile in its entirety, the then-owner stripped it down to the steel beam and built a beautiful 1 ¾ story country contemporary on top of it, rendering the property unsound. Unpredictable. Unsellable, except to a cash buyer who doesn’t glance at the deed.

Because the previous owner cut corners with the foundation, it throws off the entire house. Same holds true for our stories. Without a solid foundation — key milestones, properly placed — the story won’t work, no matter how well-written. The pacing will drag. The story may sag in the middle. The ending might not even be satisfying. It all comes down to the foundation on which the story stands.

After the mountain of paperwork involved to secure a loan, that day our mortgage disappeared. The closing got cancelled. It felt like someone tossed a Molotov cocktail through our living room window, and the fireball obliterated our hopes and dreams. We’d invested a lot of time, money, and effort into this property. We built a home. To receive a call like that two days before closing likened to a gut-punch.

Once we formed Plan B, a scary but exciting venture, I envisioned a parallel to writing. Specifically, the early days when harsh critiques and rejection letters cut deep. It’s never personal, even though sometimes it may feel like it. Writers, however, need to learn this lesson on their own, in their own time. More experienced writers can try to help those who aren’t as far along in their journey — like we do on the Kill Zone — but it’s all part of the process. Writers’ skin thickens over time. The trick is to allow yourself to fail, allow yourself to feel the pain of a harsh critique, poor review, or rejection letter, and then learn from it and move forward.

There is no rewind button for life, but we can press pause.

I applied this same logic to the house situation. For about 36 hours, we didn’t tell a soul. No one. My husband and I needed time to gather facts, talk through what happened, and then re-evaluate our options. The same holds true for writing. If you receive hard-to-handle news, step away from the keyboard and give yourself permission to absorb the blow. It may take ten minutes; it may take two weeks. We bounce back at different rates. When you’re ready, return to the source and re-evaluate with clear eyes. I guarantee you’ll see things differently.

We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

After 36 hours, we informed “The Kid” who immediately jumped online to look for properties. Kids don’t like their parents’ lives in disarray, which is why we waited to tell him once we’d processed the initial shock. Then we told our closest friends. They sprinted across the dirt road to offer encouragement. My point is, we surrounded ourselves with positivity.

Positivity begets a renewed outlook on life (and writing). Negativity brings nothing but sorrow and unnecessary turmoil.

Trash-talking about how Agent X has no idea what she’s talking about won’t change the fact that she rejected the manuscript. Nor will lashing out at the writer who critiqued your first page. Instead, find writers who will tell it like it is, writers who’ve stood where you might be standing now, writers who will help you see the forest for the trees. I love that expression. It’s visceral. It’s raw. It’s truth.

In life as well as writing, sometimes the unapologetic truth isn’t an easy thing to hear. Yet it’s exactly what we need to move forward, to grow, to find acceptance in the unacceptable. Even if my husband and I had a spare $150K kickin’ around, buying an unsellable house would be a horrible investment.

When life hands you lemons …

I truly believe we’re meant to walk a certain path. When we misstep, life has a way of nudging us back on course. So, after I came to terms with the fact that moving was inevitable, the question then became: If we weren’t meant to buy this house, then why put us here in the first place? Admittedly, the anger may have lingered a bit longer.

Now I understand why.

A little over a year ago, “The Kid” bought 3.5 acres a few house lots down from us. It’s a gorgeous parcel of land nestled under a canopy of tall pines, maple, birch, and oak trees, with a stunning mountain view and a wildlife trail that runs through the back. My husband logged out truckloads of timber, clearing a secluded but serene house lot. At the same time, “The Kid” installed a driveway and had the land surveyed and perk-tested before he and his wife decided to put the land on the market. With three children under the age of 4, it ended up being a stressor they didn’t need.

The land never sold.

When one door slams shut, open a window.

Had we never moved into this house and stayed as long as we did, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to build our dream home now … a few house lots over on land we already love. We envision relaxing on the back deck, watching black bear, moose, and deer stroll through the yard. That’s the plan, anyway. If for some reason it doesn’t pan out, we’ll readjust again.

Give yourself permission to fail, in your writing as well as IRL. Then get back to the keyboard and move forward. Only you can make your dreams come true.

Ellle James’ new press ensured Fractured Lives released in paperback before she left for vacation, which added some well-needed excitement to the week.

Three couples, the perfect Maine vacation, and a fateful night that blows everyone’s mind.

Also available in ebook.

 

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26 thoughts on “Does Your Story Have a Solid Foundation?

  1. I love this post. In fact, your positivity made me cry a few tears. I’m sorry for your loss, but ecstatic for your gain.

    • Aww, you’re sweet, Laurie. Thank you. We’re having a blast searching for the perfect layout for our new home. It’s also a bit frightening. Go big or go home, right?

    • I think I need to clarify this a little. The post struck a personal nerve. That’s why the tear or two. Negativity produces nothing, in either writing or in life. Positivity is the only way to hang in there. And you stated it quite well.

  2. Hoping this new venture comes through, but as you said, if not there’s always an alternative, which usually turns out to be better. I agree it’s the same with our writing. Success in anything in life requires tenacity, not giving up, keep looking for solutions.

    Do let us know how the house situation works out.

    • “Success in anything in life requires tenacity, not giving up, keep looking for solutions.” No truer words, Cecillia.

      While writing this post, I thought, if our story had a cool ending it would make for a more powerful post. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to finish the story. 🙂

  3. Great insights and a great attitude, Sue! Looking forward to the next chapters in your house saga.

    While channel surfing last night, a voice-over said, “Grafton County, New Hampshire.” My ears perked up as I realized that’s where you live. I watched North Woods Law for the first time and enjoyed seeing the area you describe in your books.

  4. Wow, Sue. Such a last minute huge disappointment. I know how much you were looking forward to buying your home.

    I’m glad you found this out before you closed. What a mess, but you really rebounded & in such a positive way. Your attitude is a perfect example of the positivity needed to be a writer & retain your sanity.

    To build the way you are, you’ll really get what you want, top to bottom. I’m very excited for you guys. Make lemonade, my friend.

  5. You just can’t do anything without the resilience gene. What a terrific learning (and teaching) experience. I don’t totally buy into the “things happen for a good reason” thing, but sometimes I think it’s like something (or someone) taps you on the shoulder and says, “rethink this” or “wait a while” or even “go for it!” I don’t know where these whispers come from, but it’s wise to listen to them.

    Best of luck in your new home!

    • Love that imagery, Kris. I’ve always followed that whisper, even if it leads me down a more difficult road, in writing as well as life. Thank you!

  6. Sue,
    Like the others, am sorry you lost out on this first house, but happy did you as its apparently an unsafe structure. Now that a new window has opened, good luck on your new home adventure.
    As one who worked in the regulatory side of home/building construction for many years, remember that your county building department is like a publisher. While the publisher wants to produce a book that meets market demands, the building department wants a safe structure that meets building codes. (By the way, they don’t write them, just enforce them.) So, when you get frustrated with something that’s required, think back to the publishing analogy and it will make things a bit easier to digest. You may not like it, but in the end, you and the building department are out to obtain the same objective – a safe place to live. Good luck and I hope you’ll blog how it goes.

    • Thank you, Larry. Excellent advice. Even though we were disappointed, we recognized that our lender was looking out for us. And I think that’s why it’s important to step away from the situation, in life as well as writing, in order to view things from a calmer perspective. Raw emotions have a way of obscuring the facts.

  7. Note to self: Make a copy of this post and put it in your inspiration file.

    Best of luck, Sue. You and your family got redirected to the right choice for you. That’s fate.

  8. Love your positive attitude, Sue. I’m sure it was a big disappointment but I’m a firm believer that things work out for the best. Great analogy with writing.

  9. Sue, an excellent post and everything you mentioned whether in life or writing is “oh so true.”
    It won’t be long before you’re sitting on the new back deck listening to and feeding the birds and enjoying the quietude that living in the woods can bring.
    I lived in the woods raising my children for 27 years. It was wonderful! Good luck with your new home.

  10. I am so sorry to hear about the house situation. I can only imagine the disappointment that news caused but you have turned your outlook around in such a positive way. What a great attitude and post. Thanks for sharing. I am so glad that you were able to find a solution that will work even better for you guys. Getting to build your dream home from the ground up in the same wilderness paradise that you love will be an amazing adventure. One door closes, another door opens. I hope this one will be bigger and better for you both. Best wishes and luck on your new journey. (Keep us posted on the progress so we can root you on.) Hugs, xo!

    Oh, also I was squealing like a little kid when I read that Fractured Lives has been put into paperback. Of course, I went straight to Amazon and for an added surprise I found Hacked too! Doubly excited now!!! Congratulations on the paperbacks, my friend.

    • Yay!!! Happy reading!

      Oh, not to worry. I’ve already planned to post pics on FB the whole way through the build. Exciting times lie ahead! We’ve already found the perfect loan and have settled on a basic design. Need to figure out the finer details before we take the next step in the right direction. Thanks, my sweet friend. xo

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