Hitting the Wall

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The kids are still sick. Kind of sick. Like a middling sick that has been with us since New Year’s, with lots of scratchy throats and irritating coughs and runny noses. But the kids are still carrying on like monkeys, so there’s that. And my two-year-old son is suffering under the belief that he will find relief by pulling his nose off his face. Sorry, kid. Not going to help.

Writing slowed down a bit over the last few days because I hit that point in the story when I realized I was going about it all wrong. Not the entire story, but simply that chapter. And yet I couldn’t stop pushing forward, because it’s what you’re always told. “Keep moving forward.” “Keep creating words.” “You can fix it later.”

Except that it sucks now, and it’s killing my interest in finishing this stinkin’ book.

So I had to make a decision. I have to kill this chapter, and make some heavy changes to the chapter before it. And I can’t just keep writing my way out of it or put a note in the margins to come back and tinker with it once this draft is finished. No, I have to backtrack and I have to eliminate over 6000 words of Stuff That Is Not Working.

Which, you know, is not fun. Of course it isn’t fun. Admitting that you’ve screwed up somewhere along the way is not exactly a barrel of gumdrops and unicorn toots. And not only does it mean I have to scratch out what I spent a couple of weeks agonizing over (which should have been a clue right there, since if I have to agonize over a scene, it usually means something is wrong with it), it means that I have to figure out not only how I screwed up but also how to fix it. While still trying to break the attachment I have to those 6000+ words.

And I knew – I KNEW – there was something wrong nearly from the get-go. But the words were flowing, kind of. So it had to be okay, right? I was writing! I was creating! Art was pouring out of my fingertips! And I couldn’t stop, because stopping meant I wasn’t going and I wasn’t following all of the “just write” and “writers write” and “if you’re not writing you’re a failure to all mankind, fool” inspirational memes floating in front of my face.

So I kept going. I kept adding on to this scene, making my characters say things that they wouldn’t say, in a situation they wouldn’t be in, all because WORDS and WRITING and COFFEE OH MY GOODNESS SO MUCH COFFEE.

But finally, I had to step back and say “no.” I had to stop writing. In fact, I had to delete that which I had written (well, not “delete” since I usually just copy and paste what I’m cutting into a separate folder in case there’s anything to salvage later) and go back to where I’d been several weeks before.

Which was still stuck, and twiddling my thumbs while trying to figure out how to move forward. Again.

It’s been several days now. I haven’t written anything. I gave myself a deadline for finishing this story and I will probably miss it in horrendous fashion. But I couldn’t simply keep moving forward or write my way out of the jam. But now what really needs to happen to these characters is beginning to trickle into my head, by look, by word, by gesture. One piece at a time. So even though there is that part of me that wants to WRITE and MAKE WORDS, FOOL all day long… I can’t. I have to stop. I have to tackle my stack of books from the library. I have to go for walks in the snow and let the characters work out their problems in my head. I can’t do it for them.

And at some point, I’ll sit down and start again on Chapter 24. A completely fresh start. And maybe it will work, and maybe it won’t. But I can’t just keep throwing words down onto the page (or screen) thinking that pounding at the keys is going to untangle the mess in front of me. Sometimes I need to cut out the knot entirely and weave in a new piece of thread.

And through all of that, keep my son from trying to yank his nose off his face.

 

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3 thoughts on “Hitting the Wall

  1. I feel your pain. I’m at a point where this short story series I’m working on is at a standstill. I don’t know where to take it. It feels like I’m info-dumping in these stories. When you’re basing stories on real-life experiences, it can be difficult. I’ve stepped away from it until I can get some feedback from my readers. By then, I should have some direction on what to do with these stories.

    I would say keep at it, but that would be counterproductive. Rather, I applaud you for coming to the realization that something wasn’t working. I think a writer’s best tool is intuition. Some are more in-tune to it than others, but I believe we have to listen to that voice that says something isn’t working. That sounds counterproductive, too, but sometimes that inner critic can be right. So, like everything else in our lives, it’s about balance.

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  2. Twice in my current WIP I have had to change tracks completely in the next chapter. I forged ahead, writing as if previous chapters contained the changes I wanted to make, but I needed a break to collect myself beforehand. Do you outline? I’ve found that outlining can be extremely useful during the writing breaks–keeps the creative juices flowing but takes the pressure off putting prose to paper.

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