Who’d have thought?

What went wrong?

Why did the fire for No Smoke go out before it really caught light?

If you read my previous post, All that glitters is not told, you’ll know I had some great ideas and plenty of enthusiasm for No Smoke, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. (Click here to read the post).

Yet when I sat in front of the computer, notes on the desk, the story didn’t catch fire. I wrote, sure, but it didn’t come alive, barely smouldering as I edited and revised. After a frustrating couple of weeks and many rewrites of the first few chapters, I stopped.

Did I get carried away?

I don’t mean literally, though a few days of rest in hospital might have eased the frustration and tension. Maybe the idea wasn’t as good as I thought. Maybe I’d enjoyed writing No Remorse so much, the prospect of repeating the process put doubt into my mind.

Writers are often plagued by self-doubt. It can be healthy if it makes you stop and check what you’ve done, to be more careful and meticulous. And it can be a sod, undermining your confidence and beliefs, making you question your abilities, eroding your chances of successfully completing your story.

After reading back through my notes, I knew the story had legs.

So why was it on its knees?

Was I trying too hard?

You know that feeling, when you want to shine and excel. You’ve got something good and you have to give it your best. Half measures won’t do. This is your moment to shine – and trot our more clichés than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

HemingwayOnce the platitudes reached a plateau, I shook my head. No, I wasn’t trying too hard. This was a first draft. Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

You can always improve the writing and flow when you revise the completed first draft. Armed with Hemingway’s advice, I returned to write more – but my doubts multiplied.

Was I heading for the dreaded writer’s block?

Or had I simply lost interest in the idea?

Maybe I could write a different novel. I have a stock of ideas for future stories. They’re only summaries and outlines, issues I’d like to explore, but they’re tied up with the developments in the backstory.

Maybe the backstory was to blame

Six months had elapsed and quite a few issues from No Remorse needed attention. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices for the backstory. Maybe a little doubt held me back.

I checked the main issues and the actions taken to solve the problems. I toyed with some alternative solutions to see if they would inspire me.

They didn’t.

If anything, I felt more confident with the original plot. Yet my inner voice, the little devil that picks at the details to cause doubt and confusion, wouldn’t let me move on. It kept reminding me I wasn’t as smart as I thought.

Kill your babies

This advice is often given to writers. Great ideas, sudden moments of inspiration, one-liners that can’t be equalled, all come with a health warning. Don’t get smug. Don’t think this is the best thing since sliced bread.

But it’s your idea, your baby, the one you created in a moment of inspired magic. Okay, the story needs a little tweaking to make the idea work. There may be a couple of lines of stilted dialogue to set the idea up, but it’s a killer, right?


If it doesn’t fit, flow or take the story forward, it’s no use – no matter how inspired or clever it is. I’ve killed many such ideas, deleting them from the story. It’s a shame, but the story’s better without them.

There’s no need to ask who had a killer idea as he wrote the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter on the first day.

Guilty as charged.

In my defence, I have to say it was a terrific idea that I fought hard to keep. I did my best to make it work, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t right. I simply didn’t want to admit it.

Smouldering, not smoking

Having identified the problem, I settled down at the computer, full of renewed enthusiasm, focused on what really mattered in the story. No Smoke came alive, but a lingering doubt continued to nag me, pursuing me through each chapter I wrote.

The title was wrong. Or, should I say it wasn’t quite right?

With no alternative springing to mind, I wrote on. A better title would come to me sooner or later. Yet like a mound of files on the desk or a long list of To Do items, the issue wouldn’t let me rest. I went to bed, contemplating alternative titles. I woke, having dreamt up a few more.

This nagging doubt was taking over my writing life. It was telling me I couldn’t manage something as simple as a two word title. I already had the first word – No. All I needed was a second.

How difficult could it be?

The right frame of mind

I always tell people to let the subconscious find the answers. If you try to force your mind to provide the answer, it protests. And, as someone with a black belt in pig-headedness, I should have known better.

The moment I forgot about the problem, my subconscious gave me the new title.

No Stone.

And the strapline.

Who is Peter Stone?

And if you’ll forgive the pun, it looks like this is the cornerstone of the whole plot.

Who’d have thought?

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