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Have you ever let a story write you into a surprise corner?
Do you backtrack or shift gears?
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Writing a story is always a journey. It reminds me of a tango, where you might end up backtracking or shifting around the floor to avoid getting backed into a literary corner! It feels a lot like reading a new book for the first time, except I think I am in control of where everything is going to go.
The only surprises I have had, and I mean legitimate surprise, is finding the exciting new story I was penning losing my attention. Usually when I sit down, I am ready to go through to the end. At least, I think I am. Then, sometimes, I get to a point I can’t go any further. It’s as if the story hasn’t been completed and therefore can’t be written. Then again, it could be that I have uncovered the point of where the story becomes untenable, and until I can respond to that amply, I lose interest.
I’ve evolved in my writing by not writing every single day. Unless I have a deadline to meet, I do not see the point of exhausting myself and make it harder to work later when the edit comes. Too much superfluous stuff comes about from forcing the words. Instead, I let the story tell itself to me through to the end, and then I write it down for others.
This process has helped me uncover those roadblocks and work them out, or see that there’s nothing to write yet. I’ll make notes somewhere, but I won’t waste my time writing what isn’t there. Why? Because in many cases, the whole thing would have to be revised and trying to revise something already on paper is much more difficult than amending the daydream version of it.
This doesn’t change the fact that a strong story will make you do the tango at times. That first draft finished, you have an opportunity to go through and find ways to improve the story not just by fixing typos, but finding plot holes or tidbits that would really make the story pop. You can often find what’s not working so well and either cut or revise it.
I’ve finished whole works only to realize it needed a simple but imperative point woven in. That meant going in after the edit and proofing was completed to put it in there. My fear is that something will come up to show I published too early, and it will make me anxious until I can fix it, if I can. This is a reason hitting the publish button leaves me with mixed feelings. A lot of authors are so excited, truly full of joy at finally getting that project out from under them, but I cannot be so blissful. I know myself too well. I know I make mistakes. An editor should help with those, but they may not catch something either.
What if it isn’t a matter of editing? What if it is about tweaking a scene subtly to back up something later? Without that, the story might be only ok, but once tweaked it really pops. I always worry there is a piece of the puzzle that is missing. That’s why I take my time publishing. It can be two years between my books. I want to give it time. In fact, when I wrote the trilogy, I made sure to write all of the books consecutively, then sit on it for months before taking the first crack at a redraft. So many wonderful things percolated up!
It’s overwhelming to be in the throws of writing. The ideas come fast and furious, not always clear as they could be. Some ideas need to sit about for a bit before they bloom. Having the extra time allows for this development. So does taking my time to getting around to writing it.
You may not always prevent writing yourself into a corner, but taking your time and allowing more consideration will go a long way to avoiding such ends. Being open to change is another way to keep things moving. That’s why I prefer to pants over outline my work. Although I create what can be characterized as a mental outline, I don’t rigidly adhere to it unless it is important to do so (which I’ve never found true).
Being open to changes in what you had planned will help you detect when you’re getting into the corner and redirect your efforts. It helps lessen the anxiety and keeps you moving forward. Maybe all those unfinished stories I have were just working out my obstinance!
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