1K a Day – “But I Lost The Thread”

Tenth in the 1K a Day Motivational Series, in which I talk about something that happened in the previous week that could have or did prevent me from writing a minimum of 1,000 words on a given day, or possibly talk about something that provided support to get me through the day.

I’m at the middle point of my work in progress, right at the 50% mark of what I think it will take to complete this novel (Gridfall). There comes a moment in the writing, especially longer writing, when I start to question every other word I put down. Because I’m a discovery writer more than an architect writer, the concept I had of the story has changed drastically from where I started. I get ideas for an edgy or unexpected direction a character is going to take and I just plunge headfirst into it and let the plot adjust from there. 

This creates some of the most satisfying moments both in my creative process – unplanned brilliance – and in the reactions I get from readers – genuine emotion. I say it’s brilliance not because I’m full of myself (maybe a little) but because you know when you’ve written something “good”. It’s just there, a feeling in your gut like you’ve just discovered a new law of physics, that nothing will ever be the same again. I know those moments and I’m always chasing them.

Of course, that’s the upside to discovery writing. The downside is that sometimes it meanders down a garden path and then you realize it’s all tangles and snarls and you’re lost and even that brilliant thing you wrote doesn’t work because it’s completely contradictory to everything you’ve written up to that point and you’re a hack and you should just go back to playing video games ’cause you aren’t a real writer.

So that’s the rub. And maybe it’s not so bad as all that. Maybe I just let myself wander a bit too much and I need to look at how to get the plot moving forward in a satisfying way again. The last couple weeks have been difficult because I keep finding myself second-guessing the writing.

And that’s another feeling I’ve come to know and trust. If you feel like there’s something wrong, chances are there is something wrong. How to get out of it is another matter entirely, but I find it boils down to two basic concepts:

1. Cut the old, paste it somewhere else, rework the scene or scenes and start fresh. I actually hate this method during a first draft because forward progress has halted. Though if the issue has become big enough, I’m not above cutting entire chapters. It can and does work, but it’s not my favored method.

2. Brainstorm how you’ll fix it, make notes, PRETEND you fixed it and move on as if you had already made the corrections. This one is how I work most of the time. If I know a scene or something isn’t working, I don’t stop to work on it. I stop long enough to note how I want to fix it and then keep writing new material.

First drafts aren’t perfect. They’re for fixing. So even when I start to question things I don’t let that stop me. I spend some time working out the kink and then I move on.

This past week I’ve been writing a lot of little scenes with details that ultimately I doubt will be in the final novel, knowing there’s something wrong with the plot or the characters, but being unable to pinpoint it. So over the weekend I sat down and skimmed over what I’d been working on and realized the story was stagnating. The characters had begun entering a kind of stasis. The moment I realized that I knew how to shake things up in an organic way.

I lost the thread, but I backtracked and found it again. And the beauty of writing is that, say unlike knitting, that mistake isn’t permanent. I’m not just stuck with it. You can surgically alter the thread of a story.

You can never stay lost so long as you keep moving.

And always remember to write the hell on, writers.

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