A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Opportunity Knocks

If you aren't a writer (and maybe even if you are) this post is going to sound insane. I'm hoping that since you've overlooked the whole 'voices in my head' thing, you'll chalk this one up to my writerly eccentricities and let it go. If not, you'll probably want to skip this post.

It all started with me setting a thousand word a day goal for this manuscript I have that should have been done by now. I started writing it fast and furiously in early April. Then around June I was derailed with family vacations, my exchange students, then school started, then I got involved in other writing projects. But this one has always been there in the back of my brain.

While I'm waiting on some other things, I decided to finish it. The other manuscripts I've completed have all been finished in about ten weeks, so I didn't think it would take any time at all to throw the last 20 or 30k words on this puppy and get it out of my brain. Somehow I convinced myself (and this is a MYTH) that writing would be easy.

It's not.

I ran up against a HUGE brick wall with this. I couldn't get beyond a certain scene. I knew how I wanted the story to end, and I had other scenes in mind to move on to, but somehow nothing was coming. When people would ask how it was going, I would say, "Great," even though it wasn't great. (Sara if you're reading this, I was lying, I'm sorry.) It got so bad that I actually started cleaning my house instead of writing. It got so bad that I almost decided to shelve this one, unfinished.

But despite my brick wall, I still believed in the story so I made this goal, 1,000 words a day until it was finished. The first day I got around my roadblock by writing a previous scene that I decided needed to be inserted. The second day I tried to move on, but only got about 300 words written before I was stuck again.

After all my kids and my husband went to bed I went back to my computer with my goal in mind. I was tired so I tried to rationalize; I had written that day, just not anything on this story. But I had made a goal and I decided to stick to it.

The first thing I did was delete the scene that I couldn't move beyond. (Okay, delete is such a harsh word. Really I copied it into another document, a sort of writing graveyard I like to keep for my brilliant ideas that don't quite make the cut.) The second thing I did was start to free write.

A note on this particular manuscript. Up to this point I have pansted everything I've written, but I always end up spending a lot of time revising and restructuring the plot, so I outlined this one. After I deleted the brick wall scene I started another one that wasn't in my outline, even so, I thought I knew where it was going.

I was in the middle of an important moment between my main character and her mother when someone started pounding on the door. (In the story, not in real life.) I didn't plan for someone to disrupt the moment, but there it was. I continued to write, thinking I knew who was at the door and what he wanted. (Here comes the crazy part, feel free to stop reading at any time.)

I was wrong. And I was completely blown away by what this character had come to say.

This isn't the first time my characters have done something that surprised me, but usually I'm pretty in control of what they do. I've even (at least in my mind) criticized other authors who say, "But that's what my character wanted to do." Isn't it your story? Aren't you the one in charge?

In this case I wasn't in charge, and I'm glad. The person who showed up at the door removed the block and opened the floodgates. Today I've written 3650 words. The end to this story is so close that I can taste it.

If you've stayed with me, here's your reward; the moral to my story and my advice. There will come a time in every writing project when you want to give up, when another story looks better, and/or this one seems impossible. I like to call it transition, like transition in labor, (the really painful part just before delivery especially it seems if you're delivering a vampire, but that's another story). My two pieces of advice to get beyond your transition point in writing are:

1) Don't be afraid to delete (or cut and paste to another document if you're a wimp like me) a scene that isn't working.

2) Even if you have a 'set in stone' outline, allow yourself some freewriting time to see what your characters have in mind. Their ideas might even be better than yours.

Sometimes opportunity knocks.


  1. Yay, for surprising breakthroughs and for seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I'm right there with you--5 chapters from finishing a book that took me forever to write. I was blocked for almost three months. Argh! Great post, Jennifer.

  2. Awesome post and great advice! There is something almost magical and supernatural about the writing process. The characters do take on a life of their own... all one can do is channel them the way they wish to be heard.


  3. I learned a long time ago to let my main character have control. I have a simple outline, but everything beyond that is hers to control. If she and her brother suddenly wangt to get into a no-hold-barred fight, and almost kill each other, they do. It moves the story along, and I didn't even have to plan it.

    Now I'm at the point where, I know what comes next, but I don't want to write it. Which is strange, because the scene is already written in an older version of the story.

  4. I could really relate to this post. I was so scared of returning to my WIP after a three-month hiatus to work on other projects that I almost couldn't stand reading it. But when I gave myself permission to go "off-book" and come up with brand new scenes to replace a few of the dustier ones, the floodgates of creativity opened up again. Thanks for sharing your process, and best of luck finishing this up!

  5. Interesting to read about your experience with the process. I'm a mix of plotter and panster--I tend to start as a panster, and then stall out if I don't cobble together some kind of outline.
    I've always been interested in doing creative stuff, and I work on all kinds of projects. It's been interesting to note over the years that I go through a similar pattern in creating something, whether it's a sweater or a short story. I start with that heady burst of creative energy, which keeps me going for a while. Then I almost always hit a "dead spot", something I have to really slog through and where it's easiest to give up. Sometimes I do give up, and sometime I give myself permission to let it rest for a while before going back to it. I have to make a real push, though, and once the end is in sight it's like cresting a hill and I can roll down to the finish line.
    I think it's interesting that I experience the pattern in the creative process as a whole, and not just in writing. And I really like the idea of using the freewriting to get myself through that tough patch, thanks!

    Kathy M