Essay–Write Your Way Out Of It

Stories are living things. They live while you write them, they live while you edit them, and they certainly live in readers’ minds when their eyes skate across the words.

Like living things, however, they are prone to neuroses. They happily scream along and then, for no reason, will hit a wall of doubt, insecurity, and fear. Since stories are just extensions of whomever is writing them, they are as human as it gets.

I’m talking in generalities here, and there are no doubt some writers who will disagree with me. From my own experience, this happens in nearly every story. You finish a chapter or scene and then… Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

I often intend for my stories to be short. I don’t write very long books. Just ask some of my readers–they’re disappointed when my novels only reach ~65k and end “too soon.” The irony that I intended for that particular story to only be a short or a novella is not lost on me. I don’t think it’s lost on the reader either.

When you start writing a tale, you might think you know the beginning, middle, and end. I rarely do. I frequently become lost in the middle of the story and not only does the ending change, but the beginning does too.

That phrase “lost in the middle” is important. I have these moments where I think I know where a story is going and then suddenly, BOOM! it explodes in my head and takes on depth I hadn’t thought it would. Characters want to be more important than they did before. The plot suddenly opens like a flower and blooms. When that happens, I can’t stop writing. It’s manic. It’s beautiful. It’s a mass adrenaline rush.

But like all good highs, it doesn’t last. An obstacle will come out of nowhere and you find that the road you’ve been speeding upon is suddenly closed. You either crash into the barricades or find an off-ramp. If you’re lucky, that off-ramp is easy to find. If not? You have to create one.

Sometimes I’ll switch projects to get away from that obstacle. I’ll let my navigator stop the vehicle, get out, and go somewhere else. That can be the best thing to bring a story back to life. But sometimes you just need to write your way out of it. Remember, words are ephemeral. I’ll write a scene I know is throwaway because I need to work out a problem. And occasionally, that “throwaway” scene will end up being that ramp I need to get around the blocked road.

If I can’t find the path, I’ll switch projects. Definitely. But I’ll give it a few lines of prose to work itself out. Don’t be afraid of the page–it’s your friend. Your pen or the keyboard or microphone is the best way to get the thoughts out of your head where they twist you up in knots. Putting them out into the world is sometimes the best way to solve a problem.

Write your way out of it. Write a throwaway. Work on something else. But Don’t. Stop. Writing.

That said, it’s time to go deal with an obstacle. I’m bringing dynamite, shovels, and an earth mover. Because, dammit, this story is going places. I just need to make the path.

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