This week, I broke a rule. A rule I have told other writers, loud and often, not to break.
I started over.
I spent some time in the fall putting words on pages. I went back and forth between writing scenes and reading research books. I got close to a hundred pages written. They weren’t bad. They probably qualified as the stuff that Anne Lamott says we need to get out of us, before we can revise. There was one problem.
I wasn’t happy.
Note I didn’t say that I wasn’t happy with the pages. I just wasn’t happy. I wasn’t enjoying any of the process. Oh, I’d write a few paragraphs in a voice that was fun, or I’d describe a bit of setting that looked pretty good. But I wasn’t being pulled back to write more, and I wasn’t looking forward to spending time with my MC. Who, frankly, is a pretty awesome person.
So I backed up. I spent November and December plotting the order of scenes, getting a much better idea of things that can happen in the middle, and starting to see a glimpse of how my two history threads (that DO intersect in reality) might intersect in my MC’s life. I spent time with each of my characters, trying to discover each of their goals, and I got closer. By the end of the year, I felt like I had a much stronger sense of the story.
And it had very little to do with what I’d written.
So I started over. Chapter 1, Scene 1, Page 1.
I’m slowing myself down, putting down some basic points for each scene before I start writing. Letting myself pause and think as I write, keeping in mind those character goals I thought about last month. I’m pushing myself to keep the dramatic action/conflict coming, even when I know I’ll have to amp it up later. Honestly, if you took the 100 pages I wrote this fall and compared them to the 100 pages I’m going to write in the next couple of months, I’m guessing they wouldn’t look that different. The characters and actions would probably look the same, and it’s probable that the new 100 pages won’t be any better, not from the outside.
But guess what? I’m happy again. The love is back, the feeling that this writing is THE thing I want to do with my life, no matter where it takes me on the “success” path. And I know that this is a story I want to tell.
Now I’m not planning on breaking this rule again. I still believe that too much time playing with words and phrasing at this point, in a first draft, can be a disasterous form of procrastination. But…as I get older, I’m learn (I hope!) some flexibility. I’m learning to listen more to myself, to my mind and my gut, and to take a few more chances that they might be right.
So, here and now, I give you permission to break a rule. Okay, let’s not make it one that lands you in prison with no writing time, but look for a little one that’s been bugging you. What have you heard in the past year about how to write, how not to write, that just isn’t working for you? What do you want to try instead–even if only for a few days, to check it out? Go for it…I’d love to see what happens!