When Discouragement Hits
“When I’m writing, I try not to think things like, ‘Gosh, I have to finish writing this book.’ Books are very long and it’s easy to get discouraged. Instead I think to myself, ‘Wow, I have this great story idea, and today I’m going to write two pages of it. That’s all – just two pages.'” ~ Linda Sue Park
It’s easy for me to get discouraged writing and revising a novel, even if I’ve planned it out, like this most recent one that arose out of NaNoWriMo. Once I’m in the thick of it—writing new scenes, revising existing ones, moving others around—I can feel discouraged, not knowing where to go and how to find my way out.
A friend and I were talking about this yesterday. How sometimes it just seems overwhelming and we often feel like we are losing our way, that there are too many paths to take, too many characters to juggle. We can’t seem to wrap our minds around this big, tangled mess.
What’s a Writer to Do?
I love Linda Sue’s advice. To remind ourselves that we have a great idea and we’re just going to write a few pages today. Maybe even just a few paragraphs. We’re just going to nurture and feed that idea a little bit every day.
But what happens when you’re well into revisions? The advice still applies, albeit in a different way. Maybe you’re just going to revise one scene or beef up a character in that chapter. Or in my case, stop avoiding a new scene.
During the second pass through my manuscript, I made helpful notes such as “Uncle scene.” Geez. Often I write something like this because it feels like enough time has passed and I need to bring a character back. It’s a good reminder, but not helpful in terms of giving me ideas about the purpose of the scene.
When I get to a note like this in my work, I now see that I have three options:
Fight, Flight or Freeze
I usually choose flight. Skip the darn thing and come back to it. This isn’t necessarily a bad approach. Often my subconscious will work on it and when it’s ready, it spills out the scene or at least the purpose of it, and I can move forward.
Well, yesterday I found myself staring at the same “Uncle” note I’d skipped about four times before. But this time, I paused. I asked a question:
What do we need to know about the uncle at this point in the story?
And then I moved on to a scene I actually knew what to do with. As I was revising said scene, something about the uncle popped into my head. I stopped, went back to that note, and realized that nothing about the uncle needed to go there, in that particular location—at least not right now.
The idea belonged earlier in the story. I scrolled to the beginning of the story and wrote a new scene about the uncle. As I wrote, I got that tingling feeling and realized this short scene was going to set the stage for something that happens at the end.
Questions are the Key to Storytelling
Questions are huge for me and I think there is research to back this up. Our brains are wired to find answers. That’s one of their jobs. So I decided I’m going to give it something to work on and you should too. Pose a question and move to another part of the book. Or do what many innovators do after posing a question: Doodle. Or doze. Or go for a walk. Or take a shower. Let the genius side of your brain formulate some cool stuff while you are doing something “mindless.”
Some days when I go for a walk or a run I feel like my body is made of lead. Other days I feel like I’m flying. Writing is very similar. On Tuesday I muddled around with the novel, not feeling particularly inspired or that I’d done anything that moved the story forward. Leaden. Yesterday I rewrote a scene and added the new uncle scene. Flying. I believe that those leaden days are just as necessary as the flying ones. Where before I might freeze or flee, I’m now more inclined to just keep writing (fighting) no matter how I feel about it.
Discouragement is part of the process for me. So is elation. Because I know that, I keep writing.