Monday, August 10, 2015

I Stopped Myself From "Stepping Out" on My Current WIP

Sometimes it's like a story just doesn't want to see the light of day. The plot pieces won't fit, the conflict drags on and on, and the characters won't cooperate. I have written this novel twice to date, and I'm still uncovering little "ah-ha" moments as I work through this incarnation of the story.

Once this final-final-final draft is finished, I still have to revise the damned thing, so I am far from being out of the woods yet.

Yesterday, I reached a stuck point where I couldn't justify my hero's motivation, and I struggled with his scene until I was sorely tempted to  kill all the characters, set the imaginary city on fire just to watch it burn, delete the entire file, and pretend it never existed toss the story aside to work on something else.

The thing is I have at least baker's dozen of unfinished stories littering my hard drive. Whenever I'm struggling with a novel, I always catch a glimpse of some sparkly, shiny new idea on the horizon, and I will run toward it with open arms, jot down the beginning as if I know exactly where it's going, only to inevitably lose momentum midway through the piece. No, I don't know exactly why that happens, but I'm brought to mind of that quote by Anne Lamott about ideas losing steam because there's no passion at their center. How can there be, when I'm just using that story to escape from the one I should be working on?

I have a chronic habit of starting up little hand-jammer writing pieces whenever I'm having a spat with my main work-in-progress. Instead of toughing out the rough patches, instead of brainstorming my way out of the hole, I end up setting aside my main work-in-progress to have a dalliance with an "easier to write" (lol), fanciful idea story that I know from the outset isn't going anywhere.

Once the excitement of the hand-jammer is over, and the sparkle has been examined up close, so close that I can see the diamonds are really paste jewels, and the stars are really just sequins sewn to a cheap, black curtain, I bow out, hair mussed, lipstick smudged. The whole ugly affair is over, and from there, it's the wip version of the walk of shame. I have to go back to the home piece to face the music.

I slink back to the main wip and its protagonist, and I open the file to find the hero glaring at me from across the room. His arms are crossed. He knows what I've been up to. He's been expecting me to come crawling back, and all I can do is sag into my desk chair and go on the defensive."This never would've happened if only you'd talk to me!"

It's a tense couple of days after that. The hero and I, we don't write very well together. It's uncomfortable and a little frustrating. There is often hair pulling, teeth grinding, behind-the-back cursing, and inevitably, some tears are shed. I occassionally recount the dalliance with that hand-jammer piece and cringe. Why did I stray? How could I have thought anything would come of such a ridiculous idea?  It's humiliating - and humbling. But eventually the hero and I fall into a comfortable rhythm, forgiveness settles between us, and the writing starts flowing again. Finally, progress is made.

When I hit that plot tangle the other day, I glanced longingly toward all the sparkly new ideas beckoning me from afar, their siren song so sweet in my ear: Just a quick short story on the side. Easy peasy.

Yeah, right. I was sorely tempted to cheat on my current wip by starting something new, but I also knew that the promise of a quick, easy project was just a distracting glimmer on the horizon. It would only end up another morning-after story to toss onto the unfinished project stack.

What ultimately kept me from straying is that I knew I couldn't spare the time to begin a fresh project. Mini's back-to-school bonanza is on the horizon for next week, and once that begins, I'll no longer have an easy-breezy summer schedule to do whatever I want, whenever I want. As much as I wanted to chase the shimmering gossamer of a new hand-jammer project, I recognized it for what it was. An illusion. A desire to escape from the problems in my current wip.

So what did I do? I resisted the temptation. I disconnected from the story entirely. I turned off Word and Scrivener, and I let the characters rest. I read a book. I watched a few episodes of Fist of the North Star with Oldest. I called my parents and chatted a while. I had my hubby take me and the MiniBeast to the buffet. Toward the evening, when I settled in at my normal writing time, if my characters spoke, I'd jot down a little note in long hand, then I'd work on something else - like typing up notes I've had scattered about my desk for the past two weeks.

Today I had a breakthrough that pulled me out of the mire, and put me three steps ahead of where I'd been before. What I needed was a break, not another unfinished story to feel guilty about. My characters stopped cooperating because I needed time to mentally untangle the knot blocking my story from moving forward.

Everyday I learn something new about writing and my own process. I have a greater rate of finishing, and I finish faster, when I'm working only on one project at a time. To help stay on track with that, and to help prevent data loss, I've started moving the stories I'm not working on to Google Drive and Dropbox. Out of sight, out of mind. If there's only one project on my desktop at a time, I'm less likely to stray from it. I'm also more likely to open that file out of habit after I turn on my computer.

Now if I could just train myself to take more breaks, to refresh the creative wells more often, before I get to the stepping out point, I'd be all set. ♥


  1. Yes! It's always very tempting to start something new when the 'thing' that you're doing or trying to do doesn't go like you want it to. I do that sometimes too and indeed the best thing that you can do is take a break (or a nap :)). And not start something new but that easier said then done. It's always so tempting, I think.

    1. It is very tempting. And I agree, it is easier said than done. :)


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