My Writing Turning Point (I hope)

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  So what have I been doing all this time?  I’d like to say that I’ve been writing furiously and have lots of finished novels to show for it.  Alas, that isn’t the case.  I’ve been having a writing crisis. 

The problem is that the structure of this book has undermined itself at every turn since around 80,000 words.  I knew it wasn’t working, but I thought I could just keep going and deal with the mess later.  Your first draft is like that.  The second draft can do it as well, right?  Wrong. 

The fact is, you as a writer know when you’re flogging a dead horse, so to speak, and no matter how hard you try to deceive yourself, your artistic heart just isn’t in what isn’t working.  There comes a time when you’ve got to be honest with yourself and cut something loose.  If you’re feeling the bottom drop out of your stomach every time you sit down at your desk, it’s probably a good sign something has to end.

I’m not saying this project is a dud.  In fact, I still have a lot of faith in it.  I just need some distance to get some perspective on it and work out what to do.  Since making this decision a month ago, I’ve already started getting some ideas on where things went wrong and how to move things again.  The problem is, I’m too attached to what I’ve written so far and I’m reluctant to cut the scenes out that have derailed the whole thing.  I’m not going to rush back to it, though, because I’m not ready to be ruthless with it.  This has been my baby for so long, and I’ve thought about little else. 

No, definitely a new project is needed.  I’ve got a few ideas, and I’ll learn a lot from writing something different.  My aim now is to build my skills, to learn how to get rid of what doesn’t fit into the big picture, no matter how good the writing is or how interested I am in what the characters are doing.  It’s daunting starting something new, but I feel I have to do it.  I just have to have faith that when I come back and work on this one, it’ll be better than it was before.

Getting stuck

I experienced something the other day that dogs every writer, beginner or experienced – I got stuck!  My chapter was dragging along, with not much happening and going nowhere special in a hurry.  I’d tried my usual trick – press enter and insert <work in transition> – in an attempt to get to an exciting bit, but when my next sentence was ‘Did you hear about the tribe?’ I knew it wasn’t going to work.  Boredom was here to stay.

About a year ago, my writing buddy Janette gave me some advice.  She said whenever you’re stuck, ask yourself a question right before you go to sleep and you’ll wake up with the answer.  I tried it and it worked!  As I was dropping off to sleep, I started thinking about the problem of how to start the next part of the conversation, and I came up with one line. 

Everything clicked, and I knew I’d found what I needed.  The rest of the chapter was shaped and ended exactly where it needed to.  And to top things off, I can reshape the rest of the chapter in light of that one line to match the tone.  So thanks, Janette, it only took a year but your advice eventually sank in!