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?