As writers we often get the advice to ‘Just keep writing.’ ‘Don’t stop until you reach the end of your first draft!’ ‘Write first, edit later!’ And while this is to an extent, good advice, sometimes your plot gets off course, or you get the nagging feeling that something isn’t going the way you want it to with the manuscript you’re working on. And when that happens it’s perfectly okay and sometimes necessary to stop, take stock of the situation, and correct the underlying issue before continuing to write. Otherwise you risk creating a whole lot more work for yourself in the long run.
So what sorts of things can go wrong?
Unfortunately lots of things. Writing is such a free-form kind of exercise that there is no one right way to do it. When you start a new project, you make all sorts of decisions, consciously or not, like what point of view you’re going to use, which characters you’re going to focus on, what the plot is going to be, what style or voice you’ll use, verb tense, and etc.
How do you tell when you’ve encountered an obstacle in your writing?
Most of the time, you have to go by instinct. It’s your project, so ultimately, you’re the decision-maker. The easiest way to tell, for me, is when I reach a dead-end of sorts. Either that’s because my passion for the project has faltered, or because I’ve ‘written myself into a corner’ so to speak, and I can’t see my way out of it. Usually this is a symptom of a larger problem with the manuscript. Either I made a wrong turn in the plot, or there’s something I don’t like about the manuscript that’s making me reluctant to work on it.
So what do you do when you come across something like this?
Take some time to think about what it is that’s gone wrong, what isn’t working for you. If it’s a matter of plot, sometimes you need to back up to the point that things changed for the worse and take a different path from there. If it’s a matter of style, is it something that changed, or is the overall style not working for the kind of novel you want this to be? Point of view can be a big game changer as well, whose story it is and whose perspective it is being told from is a huge decision. For example, if you started writing in first person limited perspective from one character’s point of view, but then determine later that you need a wider view of what’s going on, or need to include the perspective of another character to make the story work, then you might want to consider changing it. It’s hard to make these changes when you’ve already begun and the temptation is there to just simply carry on with what you have, but trust me, it’s much harder to change the entire manuscript on the second draft than it would be to correct the problem when you first detect it. Even if that means starting over, and it very well might.
My experience with Mirror’s Despair (the fourth in the Mirror World series)
As you may or may not know, Murandy and I have been working on our latest novel, Mirror’s Despair, for the #85K90 challenge. The challenge is to write 85,000 words in 90 days from January 1st to March 31st. This is our third year in the challenge and usually the pace of the challenge works very well for us. Not so this year, I’m afraid! Early enough on in the challenge (sometime in early February) we realized that we had encountered one of these kinds of obstacles with our manuscript. Specifically, we knew what we wanted to have happen by the end of the book, but we hadn’t done enough work planning what needed to happen to get us there while keeping in mind all the mysteries we had to solve before the end of the series. A big reason for this is because we weren’t done editing or getting our notes back from the third book in the series. In short, we were getting ahead of ourselves and really weren’t ready to dive into the pace of the challenge starting January 1st. So, mid-february, we stopped working on Mirror’s Despair temporarily to take some time to reconsider our decisions so far and make some changes. And despite this killing our chances at completing the challenge in time, I know it is going to make for a healthier manuscript in the long run.
So if you encounter similar problems when working on your own writing projects, remember that it is perfectly okay to stop, take stock, and make some changes before you continue. In fact, it may make the whole project easier.