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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.

Oh, goody.

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.

Fingers crossed.

(You can see the opening on my blog.)


  1. My sympathies. I had to give in and start a completely different project, getting the first 3K words on screen, and jot down two other things before the problem with the main WIP shook loose. That took almost two months. I’m still not fond of the protagonists in the WIP, but I know now how to get from where in the book I am to the end, and what character flaws will have to get flattened. The male lead is impulsive and thinks he’s cleverer than everyone else. That’s about to put him in a hole. The female lead absolutely has to grow a backbone, her take on cultural norms be danged.

    December 12, 2017
    • Been there and done that too on other projects. This one was very different from anything I’ve ever encountered. I was rather frustrating and humbling to realize I was trying to force the characters from this book into a plot line that wouldn’t work — for them or the series with them as the leads. But, it also showed me what bothered me about the original, very brief outline I’d written for this book, the one that sent me down this crappy rabbit hole in the first place. Now I’m going back over the fist chapter I originally wrote and am excited to get back to work. Fingers crossed Myrtle the Evil Muse behaves how.

      December 12, 2017
  2. Aimee Morgan #

    First, YAY! I love that series and was hoping for more.

    Next, having “watched” John Ringo write stories via facebook posts, I very much understand the concept of the characters fighting you. I think that’s what makes a good writer – the characters will argue with you about what they’re doing next. If they just go along with your original plan, there isn’t any fire in them.

    December 12, 2017
    • Thanks, Aimee. I love the series too. That’s why this block of sorts really bothered me. I knew the stories were there. I simply couldn’t figure out why this particular one didn’t feel right. Hopefully, I’m on the right track now. You can find a link to the opening scene in the post and the next scene is already scheduled on my blog for tomorrow. Fingers crossed the words keep flowing.

      As for John, I love reading his FB posts when he’s writing. They remind me I’m not the only one fighting characters and they give me something to aim for. I want to be able to sit down and just write like he does. Of course, it would probably kill me. VBG

      December 12, 2017
    • Robin Munn #

      Heh. The one time I actually got a scene written for the vaguely urban-fantasy concept I have in my head, the main character went along with the plot right up to the point where he was going to find out about the Big Reveal… and then he said, “Nah, couldn’t be. That kind of thing is just in stories, it doesn’t really exist,” and walked away. Not at all what I had planned. And it made for a boring story, so if I ever do revisit that idea, I’ll have to give him a better reason for getting involved: maybe someone to rescue. (“I don’t know what’s going on here exactly, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and do nothing when someone’s in danger” will get a good protagonist into the plot any day.)

      December 12, 2017
  3. paladin3001 #

    Currently fighting with one WIP. It’s a “book two” type of thing. Had to start writing it because “book three” didn’t feel right (started it before current WIP). Of course there’s the first book I still have to polish up because something about it doesn’t feel quite right just yet. Thinking of ripping out a chapter and working on earlier stuff in the story.
    Of course being a single parent of a toddler isn’t helping the creativity process….

    December 12, 2017
    • I remember those single parent days. They did make writing more than difficult. There was always something else to do. Good luck with the writing.

      December 12, 2017
  4. Christopher M. Chupik #

    I know the feeling Amanda. It sucks, but sometimes you gotta roll up your sleeves and rewrite. At least being able to spot a problem is halfway to correcting it.

    December 12, 2017
    • I know. I wish I had been able to spot the problem earlier. Oh well, at least I’ve finally got it figured out. . . I hope.

      December 12, 2017
      • Christopher M. Chupik #

        It’s the difference between good authors and authors who think they’ve written a masterpiece and spend more energy attacking people who say otherwise than bothering to fix their work.

        Like a certain Imperial author we all know.

        December 12, 2017
        • Gee, whomever do you mean? ;-p

          December 12, 2017
  5. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Yeah, my writing process seems to be different from project to project. I don’t have enough data for conclusions about the fiction side, but I see interesting variations with nonfiction. And some reason to reexamine my process, and continue working towards an end.

    December 12, 2017
  6. Draven #

    Are you sayin you knew you shoulda taken a right turn at Albuquerque?

    December 12, 2017
    • LOL and yes.

      December 12, 2017
      • Draven #

        well, we went straight… well… as straight as the 40 is out of Albuquerque…

        December 12, 2017
  7. First you plot, then you pants, then you plot and them you pants . . . or vice versa. I’ll usually have an end point in mind, and let ‘er rip.

    The one I’m currently having to drag out word by word, I’m having to plot out individual scenes. And it’s not because I’ve gone wrong, it’s because the end scene came flying off the fingers, and the subconscious has sighed happily and rolled over to hibernate though the cold snap. “Story’s finished. Le’me ‘lone.” “Excuse me? Climactic battle? Magic and swords and tanks and stuff?” “Meh. Details. Write it yourself.”

    December 12, 2017
    • I’ve had that happen. This was so different from issues I’ve had in the past that it really threw me. Good luck wrangling yours.

      December 12, 2017
  8. Sympathies and congratulations! May the pain of having to throw away already-written words be more than balanced by knowing your writerly instincts are working just fine.

    On a lower level – scenes, not whole books – I’ve learned that when I’m struggling with a scene, it often turns out to be something that was needed for clarity in the outline but that the actual writing has made irrelevant. I wish I had one of those British posters from the war that ask, “Is This Trip Really Necessary?”

    December 12, 2017
    • That is something I had to learn. Even though I know it, I still find myself on edits often cutting scenes because they aren’t necessary. Now you have me wanting to find that poster and hang it over my desk. Or on the wall next to the very old poster of the steam engine going off the end of the collapsed bridge with the men in their suits and hats looking on. The caption is simply, “Oh shit”. It reminds me I can and will go off-track sometimes but the key is finding the way to fix the problem and move on.

      December 12, 2017
  9. Rez has no subconscious. It’s just us in there.
    — signed, the Characters

    December 12, 2017
    • LOL. At least they haven’t tied Rez up yet and threatened to do dire things until they have the story they think they deserve. VBEG

      December 12, 2017
      • That’s because Rez isn’t Sarah. Although, given what Sarah does to characters…

        December 13, 2017
  10. C4c

    December 12, 2017
  11. In improv, we had a symbol. It was breaking a stick over your knee and throwing it away over your shoulder. It’s the penultimate sign of “this isn’t working; we need to try something else.” (The ultimate was tossing a nuclear bomb in.) Thankfully, we got most of those issues out in rehearsals—I don’t think we used the stick more than once in four years of shows.

    December 12, 2017
  12. Mike Houst #

    You know what’s funny about this is your situation resembles so many of the situations we run into in non-literary real life. We have a problem, but we don’t want to admit it’s a big one, we go searching for a quick fix that doesn’t work; and the only way to solve it is to dig in and do a thorough job of analyzing it (i.e. real, time consuming work), and coming up with solutions, some of which we aren’t going to like.

    December 12, 2017
    • This was my thought as well. In fact it just happened to me in real life.

      December 12, 2017
  13. You know what I’d like to see tried?
    Two (or more) of the Mad Geniuses agree to share blocked stories/books with each other.
    I imagine that all of you have stories that never saw the light of day. Take one/some and send it to the agreeable Mad Genius, with the understanding it might be gutted, might even be discarded.
    But it might also be transformed/rejuvenated/whatever, and published.

    I’d buy one of those, just because.

    December 12, 2017
    • Mike Houst #

      Interesting. How many novelists run into writer’s block on collaborative projects? Barnes, Niven and Pournelle did a lot of work together; and I don’t recall Dr. P. ever complaining about blocks, just not enough time for everything.

      December 13, 2017
  14. Mary #

    Oh, yes. There was a NaNoWriMo novel where I rushed the outline and ended up having to jettison at least a quarter of the novel. I kept on trying to segue back into the conclusion (which still worked) and finding more and more stuff was being replaced.

    December 12, 2017

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