20
May
09

Revenge of the puppies and donuts

For a Sunday Quickie a little while back, I posted about my outlining process — outline, write, get halfway in, make a detour, end up about where I’d planned to be.  Well, I’m running into some of the problems with that now, and for whatever reason it’s worse this time around.

One of the difficulties of getting better at writing is that it becomes harder to be satisfied with your own work. I’m used to hammering out an early draft, then going back and ruthlessly revising it several times.  But I need that first draft to be complete in order to finish the work at all, and that’s where the trouble comes in.  Usually I can say to myself that it doesn’t matter if the prose is rough or if I’m missing a little piece of exposition; I can fix them in the revision. 

But right now I’m coming up on a point where what I had planned is not just lackluster, but outright useless to the story as a whole.  If I write the next section as I’d originally planned, it would all get cut next time through.  I had a similar problem when starting out on this draft: Chapter 1 isn’t bad, but it’s not an acceptable opening chapter.  No problem; I can figure out a better place to start and still use some of what I’ve written.  That’s definitely something for revisions.  But this section is more of a problem, and I’m not sure I want to waste the time writing a chunk of story that will, eventually, get revised out of existence.

Where I am now, to take the road-trip metaphor from the Sunday Quickie post, is sitting on the hood of my car, puppies and donuts from the detour at chapter 7 in the back, realizing that the really wide river in front of me is not on the map.  I can see my destination — that hasn’t changed, and I know it’s going to be awesome when I get there — but the next bit is going to be a problem.  I’ve got some glimmerings of how I can fix this, but if I just jump right in, there’s a chance I’ll get stuck.  

My usual advice — not that I’m often asked, but it’s a general principle — has always been to get the draft on the page and fix it next time through.  I think that still holds, but in this case, I think I may also take a day away to figure out what the new approach should be, since the old one isn’t going to work.  (And hey, since I doubt I’ll get much work done during WisCon, maybe that’ll be enough time for my subconscious to map out a new path.)

What do you do when your current project stalls?  Do you jump ahead and come back to that section later, or plow on through, or set it aside, or something else entirely?

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5 Responses to “Revenge of the puppies and donuts”


  1. 1 Terri-Lynne
    May 20, 2009 at 9:36 am

    I used to plow through and ‘fix it in revisions.’ The problem with that is twofold: 1)you’re going forward without quite knowing where you’ve been. And 2) once you fix the stalled bit, it could well change what comes after.

    When I stall now, I know it’s because I am in the wrong place, or the wrong POV. My general rule is if I’ve struggled with a section/scene for more than three days, I switch it up. It has yet to fail me. I’m getting better at sensing such stalling in the beginning stages, usually wasting no more than a day on a bit that’s not working. There are those times, however–sigh. The delete key never gets easier to press.

  2. 2 rachelaaron
    May 21, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Wow, does everyone go to Wiscon? I’ll have to go some time, it seems like the cool place to be!

    What you’re describing here, Margaret, is EXACTLY what I just went through. Planned it out, wrote it, knew it was wrong, kept writing because at least I was getting something down and could fix it later… only I hated writing things I knew were going to be chucked, but what else was there to do, etc. etc.

    Hopefully your end solution is better than mine, which was to realize my problem was that I was writing the wrong book, chuck pretty much everything past chapter 4 and restart.

    And Terri-Lynne, you’re right, hitting the delete key (or in my case, chucking everything into a “cuts” file) never gets easier. Ever.

    But still, this seems to be pretty much par for the course, at least in my experience. I think the trouble is that novels are what programmers call “wicked problems,” which are problems you have to solve before you know how to solve them. My writing process seems to be do it once, do it wrong, tear it down, do it again, do it right (or right-ish).

    Ugh.

  3. 3 mlronald
    May 21, 2009 at 7:36 am

    Terri-Lynne, changing one part does change what comes after. At the moment I have several things that I know need to happen one chapter down the line; it’s just coming up with a new fit that will fill all those requirements. (The good news is that one of the things I tossed in in chapter one will fit some of it very nicely.)

    Rachel, WisCon is pretty awesome, and I’d recommend it to anyone. And ouch, that’s a nasty way to run into it — everything after chapter four? Eeeek. I hadn’t ever heard of “wicked problems” but that’s a really good way to describe them. Thanks!

  4. 4 Terri-Lynne
    May 21, 2009 at 8:02 am

    Rachel–ah, the ‘cuts file.’ I used to keep one of those–until I realized I never actually used any of the cut stuff! Meh, once a darling is dead, what’s the point of resurrecting it–unless of course it’s a zombie book. ;)

    mlronald–Rock that chapter! In the end, whatever your method of madness, if it works, it’s right!


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