Realizing when you’ve gone down the wrong path
The last month, I’ve been fighting the work-in-progress. I found all sorts of excuses about why I was having issues with it. There’s the knee injury that’s made it difficult to sit for long at the desk — or just about anywhere else — and write. Then there was Thanksgiving (which dragged out for three days with three large meals to plan and cook because of the different waves of company we had). There were other real life issues as well. All reasonable excuses for work not happening.
But they were excuses and I finally had to not only admit it but figure out what was going on.
This book, from the very beginning, has given me fits. I started it almost six months ago. The plotting went well. When it came to sitting down and writing it, the brakes slammed on and everything came to a standstill. So I did what I usually do when that happens and started asking myself questions about the plot, the characters, etc. I thought I found the answer. I needed to change the main character a bit and needed to do major changes to the plot. I did so and then the writing began again.
Then it stopped.
I finally threw my hands up in the air night before last and saved out the file on all the various back up media I use and closed down the laptop. Something was wrong and I needed to figure out what. Otherwise, the book wasn’t going to get written or, worse, I’d force it and be left with a sub-par product.
So I slept on it. Morning didn’t bring any answers. I pulled out my notes for the novel, going back to the very first handwritten notes and started reviewing them. As I did, an inkling of an idea came to me and I started searching my office for my series notes. There was something there, if I could just put my finger on it.
This particular series, Eerie Side of the Tracks, has been different from my other books and series from the onset. The stories are a mix of romantic suspense and urban/contemporary fantasy. The fantastical aspect isn’t in every story but it plays a huge part in others. Each title has a different main character from the one before. Even so, there is a core group of characters who appear in each of the stories.
Another way this series has differed from my other books is that I tend to plot them out in a bit more detail than the others. I am, at best, a mix of plotter and pantser but, in this case, I am a plotter. Each chapter has a paragraph or so of notes and there are overall story arc notes. Even so, once I start writing a book or novella in the series, I tend to simply review my notes and then sit down and write. It almost always leads to detours and changes but I at least have a general idea where the story is supposed to go.
So what was going on with the current book? Why had it ground to a screeching halt?
I couldn’t figure it out — until I got to the last sentence I’d written in my original notes for this particular volume in the series. Somehow, I hadn’t transferred that one sentence to the working file. And, reading it, the light went off. The book I’d been writing was just fine. Except it was the wrong book and in several ways.
Somehow, between real life and injured knee, I’d done two things. The first? I’d tried forcing the characters to do things they didn’t want to do. I know it sounds crazy, but the characters knew better than I did that I’d screwed up and had them doing things they wouldn’t do in the situations I’d set up. Yes, I know it wasn’t really the characters. It was my subconscious.
The second, and more important, issue with the book was even more fundamental. The book was not the next one in the series. It was, in fact, the book that will follow. So, in one way, I’m a step ahead in the creative process, I’m also behind the eight ball in going back and getting the right book written. However, for the first time in more than a month, I want to write. I’m excited to write.
I know what to write.
But it wasn’t easy getting to this point. I fought admitting there was something wrong with the project for weeks. Why? Because I let myself fall into the same trap so many writers do. I blamed writer’s block. I blamed real life interference. It was easier to find excuses than to sit down and take a hard look at what was happening and why.
And that is something we, as writers and especially as indie writers, have to do. We have to remember to turn a critical eye not only to our finished product but to our writing process as well. The latter isn’t easy, especially if your process changes project to project, (Please tell me I’m not the only one this happens to.) It’s also not easy because it means we have to learn the difference between a real problem in the process vs our craft has improved and so writing doesn’t feel the same as it did before. When that happens, it can be scary. But it’s a good scary. It also shouldn’t bring the writing to a stop. It will, often times, push the writing into overdrive.
So now that I know what the problem is, I found myself not sleeping last night. Instead, I reviewed all my original notes and then what I’d written. Some of it can be salvaged and made part of the book that needs to be written. Most of it will be put aside until time to really write Book 4 in the series. Better yet, the opening I wrote for it originally can be used with a little modification.
(You can see the opening on my blog.)