Writing is not for the faint of heart. I'm talking here more about an emotional courage that's required, though there are physical perils as well (paper cuts are no joke). I'm talking about the times when you're thrilled with the glory of your creation and you resemble this guy as each brilliant word flows effortlessly from your brain to your keyboard:
You're a wizard and your book is soon to be an international bestseller!
And then you hit a snag. You realize a character, a plot point, or the whole concept is just not working. You're worthless and so is everything you have ever written, including last week's grocery list. You feel like this:
If you're a writer, chances are you've been there- both places. And chances are equally good that anything I am about to say isn't going to make you feel any better if you're in the slough of despond right now about your work in progress. But these ups and downs, these swings from elation to despair, are all part of the rich emotional pageant that is the writing process, and the sooner you accept that, the better your chances are for survival. And publication.
I chatted recently about this sort of writer-specific bipolar condition with a friend of mine. She's a YA writer and a teacher, and, like most teachers, she doesn't usually get summers "off"; most teachers I know work some other job over the summer, and she's no exception. This summer, though, was the first in over a decade that she wouldn't be teaching. It was The Summer of Writing and she was so excited about it.
At first, after some rusty starts at reacquainting herself with her characters and her story, the full-time writing life was the bliss she had anticipated. With no other job to worry about, she could focus 24/7 on her story, and it was exhilarating how quickly, easily, and varied the ideas came. By mid-July, she had two hundred pages written and pages of notes and a thriving Pinterest inspiration board. She swears even the neighborhood birds chirped around her like that scene out of Disney's Snow White.
And then it stopped.
Doubts began to creep in. Had she started the narrative in the right place? Were the characters interesting enough? What was going to happen next? Dear God, had she been mindlessly producing a string-of-pearls plot* all summer long? Panic set in followed by despondency and sleepless nights. Until one night she woke up and knew what she needed to do, which she remembered had happened to her with an earlier manuscript (now a real published book), which reassured her. The solution, however, did not.
She had to scrap all two hundred pages and start over again.
And that's what she's doing. She's opened up a new file folder on her desktop for this version and trying not to feel like those two hundred pages were a waste of time. Because they weren't. They led her to the realization that is - hopefully - going to make this a better and stronger book in the long run. And as any writer knows, to create something worthwhile and lasting, you have to play the long game.
So if you've hit a snag in your writing, don't despair. Take a break. Work on something else and let the problem percolate in the back of your brain until the solution comes to you. In this way, writing is very much like scientific inquiry: there's a lot of trial and error, no matter how carefully you outline and pre-plot and prepare. Sometimes you just have to go back to the drawing board and see all the previous experiments as learning experiences. Because that's what they are, though it's not easy to remember that when you're clutching your laptop and weeping.
Drop the Team a line about a snag you hit and how you've overcome it. In the mean time, I'm going to talk the Other Guy out of destroying his work in progress and his laptop just because Natasha pointed out that the "it was just a dream" plot twist had been done a few times before. He's not big on the whole "trial and error/learning experience" thing.
Until next month. Banner out.
* a "string of pearls plot" is called this because while lots of stuff happens to the characters - problems arise, problems are solved - none of the events really move the story along or contribute to any overarching theme. You can read a good definition here.