Thursday, September 20, 2012

Feelings That Just Won't Die

We should trust our instincts.  As writers, we know where we want the story to go, and we know when we've hit the mark.  That being said, we also know when we're coming up short, and we should be honest enough with ourselves to say when that's happening.

I've begun my next work.  It's a supernatural murder mystery relies on keeping the reader off balance in order to create the right effect.  I have a goal of writing at least 1,000 words per day, and I'd like to reach 2,000 words per day when I can.  However, I've recently found that I can get so caught up in reaching the daily word count goal that I forget to move the story along.  Some days I write what I call "filler material" - material that doesn't really advance the plot and exists solely for the purpose of giving the novel bulk.

I just finished a stretch of the work that seems very much to be filler material.  The action scene is forced and the dialogue is stilted.  I've read it and re-read it and I don't think it measures up to the standards I believe the novel should have.

Things like this have happened to me before, and I can almost always pinpoint where the problem is - I didn't spend enough time with my outline figuring out where the story should go.  I know that some of you can write by the seat of your pants and churn out the next Harry Potter book, but I'm not like that.  I don't want everything in such excruciating detail that the fun is gone from the creative aspect of the writing, but I have to know where the novel is headed.  The few times I've tried to write without an outline, the book simply fizzled.

So while my daughter does her nightly chest therapy for her CF treatments, I need to sit down with my trusty notepad and actually think about where I want this road to take me(to the layperson, this looks an awful lot like goofing off).  I've X'd out entire sections of the outline because it didn't work, and I have little problem with that because my outline is free-flowing, and just daydreaming is one of the most fun parts of writing.

However, I do have a problem when I have to throw out pages of work because I screwed up and didn't think things out in advance.  I've talked about this before, and it always kills me when I have to rip up pages I poured my heart into.  You think you've reached a daily goal and are chugging along nicely, when all of the sudden you feel like not only are you not moving forward, but you're now retreating.  It's an absolute kick in the balls, but it's necessary if we want to churn out a quality product.

Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes fame once said that he'd been known to rip up weeks of material that he didn't think was any good.  Those of us who love Calvin and Hobbes would have loved to have seen those stories because we're convinced that they're every bit as good as what we've come to expect from Watterson.  What we're missing is that we're such huge fans precisely because of the commitment to excellence.  We've come to expect a certain standard from Watterson, and if we looked at what he was unhappy with, we'd probably be disappointed.

It's the same with writing.  We have to put our best foot forward and know when we're falling short.  I'm not talking about total perfection, just that we can all tell when we're not giving our best effort.  There's an inner sense that lets us know that we should go back and try again from the last place we were doing well.  It's painful and a process I'll have to go through at some point soon, but hopefully it'll ensure a better novel in the end.

One of these days I'll find a way to hook my brain directly into my computer so I can get it right on the first try, but until then, I'll just have to endure the heartache of ripping up what I've done so I can get readers a better product - they deserve no less.

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