Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Only Way Out is Through

Do you ever find yourself re-learning the same lessons over and over?  It's a bit frustrating, knowing that you should have listened better the first time, but it does serve to really drive home the point.

Today, I re-discovered something that I've always known (but frequently need repeated): Sitting down and writing solves more problems than sitting around and thinking.  If you're stuck, the fastest way to get through the block is simply to keep writing.  More often than not, you'll figure out the solution eventually and circle back to fix it.

This seems a little counter-productive at first, which is why I always forget this important lesson.  How are you supposed to do something if you don't know what you're doing?

And maybe not everyone writes the way I do, so maybe this advice doesn't work as well for others.  Take it with a grain of salt, certainly.  But for me, writing is an act of sculpting, like working with clay.  I start with a small piece, then add and shape and trim and shape some more.  I tend to add words when I revise, and part of that is because I have to get through the forest before I can see it properly.

There's a psychological component to this.  Our brains are hard-wired to try to make sense of things.  After the fact, we always try to piece things together to understand them.  That's why they say, "Hindsight is 20/20."  When you're in the thick of a problem, you can't always see the best way out of it.  It's only once you've gotten through it that you look back and say, "Ahh, I should have done X!"

Lucky for you, in your book world, you can go back and do X.  You can travel in time and change the future.

Anyway.  All this occurred to me today as I was struggling to get past a tricky part in my manuscript.  I got to a place where a particular plot point was suddenly much more important than it had been up to then, and the incongruity was confusing me.  I knew that the characters had to feel the dire importance of this plot point, but I had no idea why any of them would care about it.  It was forced and awkward and so very frustrating.

But I pushed through and wrote a random off-the-cuff scene that had nothing to do with anything -- a little flashback to a character's childhood.  And when I wrote it, I realized three things:

  1. It was way more important than I'd initially thought.  
  2. It was several chapters too late.  
  3. It was the first of many references that would make sense of the plot point. 
So I cut and pasted the scene several chapters earlier, then went through and edited it all for continuity.  Now, knowing that piece of information earlier clouded what the narrator would say later, and everything tied together.  

I ended up having a very productive day of writing after all that, and I never would've gotten there if I'd stopped to puzzle out the plot rationally.  

So, as a reminder for myself (and whomever may be reading and struggling): If you get stuck, just keep going.  You can swing back around to fix it once you figure it out.  

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