So, here I am, taking a little break from my novel and short story work. And it couldn’t have come at a more convenient time, because I’m discussing a problem I’ve just recently run into with my own labors.
So I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a short story, and I started writing it. And as I wrote it, I kept altering it in little details here and there. After all, in a sense the things we write have a tendency to take on a life of their own, figuratively speaking, and don’t always end up the way we planned. And boy did it go off in a different direction. What I had originally intended to be a five or six page short story is now morphing into a twenty-plus page piece, and I’ve run into a place where I’m not so sure I want to go in the original direction for the story’s ending, as it reads a little too much like another story I’ve written (more on that later).
Anyway, I’ve done something that I hoped I would avoid, something I’ve done before, and I’m sure you have done before as well if you’ve ever done any writing:
I’ve written myself into a corner.
I wouldn’t exactly call it “writer’s block” per se. It’s not like I can’t think of anything to write. But I would say that what I want to write is making me balk a bit at actually writing it, because what I don’t want is a reader reading it and saying “Oh, J. Dean already did this.” I mean–yes, things are going to be somewhat the same, as there is nothing new under the sun. But it’s like listening to a music artist whose songs, though good, tend to sound a little too much like one another. And while I don’t necessarily want to go off the deep end from myself stylistically (and if I did it would make the story even worse), I also don’t want to end up being too predictable.
So my hope is that, in writing about writing one’s story into a corner, I can help myself as well as all of you should you find yourself in this situation.
There are a few options you can use to get out of writing yourself into a corner. I’ve used all of these before, and I haven’t decided which one will work for my current situation, so this will give me a fresh perspective on how to get out of this corner, and it will hopefully help all of you, my lovely readers.
The Nuclear Option: This is a last resort, of course. Robert Heinlein had five rules for writing, and his second rule what that “You must finish what you write.” I agree in general, but I also understand the frustration which comes when you have tried over and over, but simply do not like what your product is or is becoming. Scrapping the whole thing should be done only after other options have been weighed out, but at the same time, it is an option, one that I’ve personally used. So use it if needed, but use it only when you’ve tried every other avenue. Stephen King once said that notebooks for ideas are where bad stories go to live forever, and I would venture to say the same thing about stories that have been salvaged with every good intent yet still fail to sustain either the writer or the reader.
Fresh Eyes: Yeah, I get it: we don’t like letting other people read our unfinished work. You and me both. But at the same time, letting somebody who’s unfamiliar with your story take a look at it and offer suggestions can be of great benefit. Sometimes we’re a little too “comfortable” with our styles and our stories, and we’re beholden to our biases and our mindsets in a way that blinds us to other options. Giving somebody else a chance to look over what we’ve done so far while asking for suggestions, though embarrassing for some of us, is a good way to take the blinders off and see more potential pictures.
The Road Less Traveled: If you can, back up and find the spot where you led yourself into the corner. Sometimes the fix is as easy as having your protagonist turn left when he or she should have turned right. Yes, it might involve a little bit of editing or outright rewriting, but it’s an ounce of prevention, let it keep that pound of cure at bay.
Write something, write anything: Sometimes, when I’m in that corner, I’ll just start writing, even if the idea isn’t fully developed. I’ll take the protagonist, the antagonist, or even the setting in a direction that’s both unexpected and unorthodox. Even if I end up not liking what I’ve written, I’ve at least given myself something to say “Hey, this isn’t good. ‘X’ or ‘Y’ would be better,” and then I’ll proceed with “X” or “Y”. Once in a while it takes conceiving a bad idea to birth a good one.
Plan your trip: Now this one varies from writer to writer. I know of writers who don’t like to plan anything at all regarding characters or plot, and they insist their stories turn out just fine. I admire them for that, but to be honest that rarely works for me. I frankly have to plan ahead for the most part. In fact, it was not planning ahead that got me into this little fiasco in the first place. Yes, allow for wiggle room and potential deviancy in your plot and characters, but at the same time it’s best that you have at least a rough idea of where you’re going and how you’re getting there. One can plan generalities without sacrificing spontaneous specifics.
Okay, I’m going to hold there for now. Perhaps I’ll add a “Part 2” to this list later on, but for now think on what I’ve said here. And hey, email me your own ideas! I’ll be happy to add them!
Alright, dinner calls. Cold pasta does not taste good, just so you know.
See you in the Vein!