Writing -any creative endeavor, really – is all about giving yourself permission to fail.
Now, in one sense, that’s idiotic and ridiculous. The purpose of art is not to make something that’s bad. It’s not to allow something that’s bad to enter the market. The purpose of art is to make something that people respond to in some way, either by giving you money for it or by offering criticism on it. Creating something that will do neither is a waste of time and energy.
So I don’t mean that. What I mean is, when you’re working on something, and you’re not sure if you have a way forward, and you start looking at it like it’s some wriggling obscene bastard creation of hubris and wishful thinking, you may be tempted to scrap the thing and move on.
This is what you should not do. You should finish it. You should keep going. You should say to yourself the magic words:
It’s only a first draft. I can fix it later.
I had this experience with the most recently finished chapter of The Party At the Last Tomorrow. Several times I looked at this and realized that I had no idea who was doing what or why. There were so many unanswered questions that I began to lose track of things like basic character motivation.
Then I decided that one thing needed to happen in this chapter, and the rest I would figure out later.
This is what you do when you’re “pantsing”, i.e. Making it up as you go along. I’ve talked about this before. It can be frustrating because you can write yourself into a corner and get stuck. And then you can want to throw the towel in. But then you lose. Writing is an endurance sport. If you give up, you lose.
If you want to get technical about it, if you write by “pantsing”, all you’re doing is creating a slightly more in-depth outline. Treat your first draft as an outline and then if something needs more work, more depth, to be moved around or even deleted, it can be. That’s what macro-edits are for.
But you can only macro-edit something that’s actually finished. You need to finish. You have to keep going. If permitting yourself to fail in the short term gets that done, so be it.
So that glaring plot hole? Drive around it. That character moment you haven’t established properly yet because you just thought of it? Throw it in anyway. It’s okay if the result is a discombobulated novel that doesn’t quite work. Once you have the parts, you can rearrange it to make it work.
So feast on the epic of pantsing that is the new chapter of Party at the Last Tomorrow. The first draft of this thing will be done by Easter. That’s happening. For I am the God of this world, and I so command it.
One thought on “WriteTip: When You Get Stuck, You Just Keep Going”
[…] As I’ve announced before, a good bit of Last Tomorrow was written on the fly. Like the US Navy in WWII, I simply went around difficulties. That’s fun, but at some point, you have to force those little hidden Japanese jungle plot holes (I’m getting all the elasticity this metaphor has, thank you very much) to surrender. And I just hit a big one in the second chapter. Something happens and I don’t know who caused it to happen. It’s not super-important plot-wise, so I could just get rid of it, but it’s kind of important thematically, so I don’t want to. […]