Writing Report July 8, 2017
A bit of writing advice I have never found to work for me is: “Finish everything you start writing; you can always go back and rewrite or edit it once you’re done.”
For me personally, considering my background, this does not work. As a post newspaper editor and later as a public affairs specialist for the Army, as a writer then story editor for TV, I found writing something all the way through then going back to fix it to be a colossal waste of time.
My tenure as a story editor for Sunbow best exemplifies this: At peak production we had to get at least one finished script out the door every day and into the production hopper.
We didn’t have time to waste with endless rewrites and tweaks and fixes.
If I was writing a script and I got off on the wrong foot, I could tell very, very quickly: The story stopped flowing along naturally and instead became something I had to force, the proverbial square peg in the round hole.
I knew that to keep forcing the story would only slow the actual writing process down, and that when I was done we’d be stuck with a clunky, ill-devised script that would need just as much time in the rewrite stage as the first draft stage, and that would clog up the production line even more.
So I learned the moment the story became problematic to abandon it.
Sometimes it meant going back a few pages / scenes to find where I went off the rails and start writing from that point but with a new angle.
Other times it meant ditching the whole thing and beginning from page one.
(We’d occasionally get scripts from freelancers who pitched a good story, worked out a solid idea with us, then choked on the actual execution; as often as not we paid ‘em for the script and then just wrote a brand new one based on the approved premise. And we would hire them again, because we knew that sometimes happens, and if a writer could come up with a good idea and underlying plot they were worth the effort.)
I do this with other projects I work on, too. I have any number of longer works that are stalled out at the midway point: There’s something wrong in the approach and I haven’t figured out what it is yet, and until I do it is pointless to proceed.
I’ve mentioned this example before but I shall use it again because I’m nothing if not shameless in my recycling of old material: Many, many years ago I had an idea for a novel about a scandal that rocks a family. I got quite a ways into it but eventually threw in the towel; I was jerking the characters along like puppets, not letting the story unfold naturally.
I rethought my approach and tried again, this time from a multi-character point of view instead of a single character.
That worked even less well and I bailed long before the midway point.
I tried again, this time from a first person point of view (the other drafts had been third person). Not really better, though not as bad as the second draft; again I bailed at roughly the halfway point.
Then one night I was washing the dinner dishes and the solution to my problem popped into my head: My approach had been to write about the people actually involved in the scandal but my story really needed to be about an innocent bystander, a family member unaware and uninvolved in the actual scandal yet nonetheless swept up by it and facing the possibility of their own life being ruined.
The moment I had that breakthrough all my previous problems were solved and I knew how to write the story.
I finished washing and drying then excitedly told my wife I’d solved the problem/s that had been bugging me so long.
Her response? “You should do the dishes more often.”
(Where is that story, you ask? It’s coming, it’s coming. Let me get a few other works finished and polished, let me do the next big project I have on deck, then the scandal story will see light of day.)
Abandoning the story three times proved a good idea. Jamming it through regardless would not have made it something I’d want to revisit; it would seem more like a big duty, an onerous obligation rather than something I really wanted to do.
And if you want to write, you absolutely have to convey the feeling that the story you’re telling must be told, otherwise we can just program a computer to crank out yarns by the yard.
ADDENUM: What’s the point of posting a writing report if you aren’t going to actually report on the writing you’ve done? D’oh!
The second female barbarian fantasy story is done, clocking it at slightly under 32,000 words. That will probably get trimmed down in the editing / rewriting stage: I tend to write fat and merciless whack stuff off later.
There are two more adventures for my heroine to endure before her story ends so I’m guessing the final form of the saga will run about 96,000+ words.
We’ll see as we get there.
I was able to wrap up this story in a burst of about 4,500 words in a single evening, despite interruptions. I live in a household with a wife and a cat and at least one of them does not understand when I’m actually at the keyboard I am working, not putzing around, not playing (even if it doesn’t look like that from their POV).
I also wrote a fictoid (a.k.a. flash fiction of short-short story) by hand in one of my ubiquitous collegiate notebooks the night before. The fictoid was based on a news event and while I’m in the neighborhood of what I want to say / do with it, there seems to be something missing from the matrix.
So that one can sit a while until I sort things out.
Soon-ok will probably tell me to wash more dishes…