Without fail, there comes a point while you’re writing your first draft where you sit back, shake your head and wonder what the hell it is you’re doing. You were rolling along at a breakneck pace, cranking out thousands of words a day, completing one chapter after the next, words flowing like water over Niagara Falls, casting a myriad of prismatic verbal color all around you. Glorious phrases drip from your fingertips, witty dialogue abounds, characters mesh, sweet, sweet conflict arises and gives way to wicked plot twists. You’re swept up in a writer’s high…oh, is that the end of the book in sight? Why yes, yes it is! You proclaim yourself a genius, this is great!
And then everything comes to a screeching halt.
Good lord, what have you done? You realize it’s time for drafting book two, but the path is obscured by mist so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You hear a million voices clamoring for attention…oh, wait, no, it’s not your family begging for attention and sustenance, nor is it Mt. Washmore calling to you from the laundry room. Those voices are all the characters you’ve created in your writing frenzy. Plot holes deeper than the Grand Canyon loom before you. The path that was so clear before is gone, lost in a tangle of briars, vines and nasty whip-thin branches smacking you in the face.
WtF Just Happened?
Don’t worry, this happens to all of us, you are by no means alone. This is part of the process, it’s what happens when you let loose, forget about fretting over every word and rule and roll with the creative tidal wave. The good news is, you have a first draft, and first drafts by no means a final book make. It’s in this first draft that you’re going to find the REAL story. This real story may not be the one you started out with, in fact, it may be better.
The bad news is, you still have to find it. Time to put your waders on, kids, here’s where the real work begins.
Now you have two choices; if you’re doing a series you can keep going, continue spewing out those words, or you can find the genius in the pause, especially if you have no idea how to start the next book. The deeper in you go, the more wrinkles you’ll have to iron out. You have this massive wrinkled bedsheet, it’s unsightly, tangled, and in some cases, you may have cats (your characters) who want to help and want to do nothing but play, making more lumps and bumps for you to deal with.
How do you make it work?
Heat Up the Iron
Regain Your Focus. First, you have to get the cats off the bed. Toss them out into the hall and shut the door. They mean well, but they’re not helping (but damn, they’re so cute!). Open the windows, let some air in. This may mean putting the story down for a week or two, creating some distance between you and the project. Give yourself a chance to come back to it with fresh eyes.
Listen. Chances are you have a lot of noise in your head. Has a particular character or direction thrown everything else off course? This happens to me all the time. I fixate on a particular character or situation and end up over-thinking it. Scenes become stilted and instead of letting the characters do what they really want to do, we try to box them in and make them fit our preconceived vision. Let go and follow what your instincts are telling you, often times that direction is the more interesting one and I guarantee you it will feel like a breath of fresh air. Stop thinking and just listen.
Dig for the Core. During your read-through, look for the patterns. What themes keep popping up? What do your characters return to time and time again? After a writing frenzy you’ll be surprised at the deeper symbolism that rises up from the depths of your subconscious. For example, in our latest Tau’s Pride series, we were trying to bring to the forefront baddies that came off as flat and useless. The real threat to the Pride, our set of core characters, came from an unexpected source that changed the whole course of the story.
Sharpen Your Machete. Put on your story editor’s hat and be ruthless. The first thing you need to do is set up a separate document (one we call “The Cutting Room Floor”). You’ll have a lot of scenes and dialogue you’re head over heels in love with, but if they don’t contribute to the story, they’ve got to GO! If you can remove a scene or character and it doesn’t affect the story at all, you know it shouldn’t have been there at all to begin with. Chop, chop, chop, and then chop again. Throw it all on the cutting room floor. Let it go with love. Know that your time wasn’t wasted, you’ve still got it all saved, maybe you’ll use it someplace else later, or pieces of it, or not at all. It’s okay, keep repeating to yourself “Words are never wasted. Words never run out. I have an abundance of words and there are always more.”
These are only a handful of methods we use for ironing out our stories. By eliminating the clutter and noise we’re able to skim the muck off the top and see where the story has to go and before long, fresh ideas bubble to the surface and we’re eager to start writing fresh material, it’s like crawling into a freshly made bed, with crisp sheets that smell of lavender fabric softener and tempt us with sweet, sweet dreams.
Are you stuck in your story? Do you have tangles so big the whole task seems impossible? Contact us. Contact us right now by clicking this link and scheduling a FREE one hour consultation.