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Writing backwards

Sometimes the writing goes so slowly, you might as well be writing backwards.  The word count goes mysteriously down, rather than up, even though you are trying to write forwards, you are going through the motions of it.  You feel sleepy at your desk.  You feel suddenly that whatever it was that you and your story had, it has been lost somewhere.  You know that something is – wrong.  Now, there are 2 responses to such a predicament.

Option 1 is to panic.  Balk, fret, run and hide.  Be convinced of your own failure.  Know suddenly, in your bones, that the fragile craft into which you loaded all your hopes and words is no longer seaworthy.  Perhaps it never was.  Complain bitterly on Twitter that you cannot write and it is officially the end of the world.  After all, watching TV only confirms our hopelessness, the tragic awareness that writing cannot save us.  Worry and wallow.  Consider scrapping the whole of the thing.  What other fear-based reactions have I missed?  No matter.  Friends, do not choose Option 1.

Option 2 is to wait.  Simply wait.  Sit with the writing.  Look closely at the moment that despair set in.  Look at what it is that you were attempting to write when your house of cards collapsed.  Somewhere in those lines, in that scene, on that page is a moment of opportunity.  It is the writing asserting itself to tell you that you do not know where you are going, or that there is somewhere else you should go.

I have had a few days of rough writing.  I can blame a lack of sleep, an injury, a barking dog next door.  Or I can sit with the moment I am trying to write and realise that something needs to change in the work.  I sat with the moment and saw a sequence I could not write toward or across, because it wasn’t true.  It didn’t work.  Instead of trying to write myself out of the mess, I went back to my plan for the book and I could see, right there, that I was trying to write across a hole that had no foundations.  I was trying to fill up that hole with words and with activity, but the writing knew better.  So, the writing stopped.  The writing stopped me.

I worked on the plan instead of aimless writing and learned some things about the story and the characters.  I moved a lot of text and action forwards and backwards in the draft – easily done in Scrivener.  Best of all, I simplified my plan and I simplified the story.  Emma Darwin, in her blog, spoke of an early draft being a scaffolding, and that has stuck with me.  That is what it feels like for me, too.  I know that I can’t bolt on details and strands until I know that the shape of the thing is true, is sound.  I won’t know if I’ve repaired my craft until the writing is happening again and telling me that it will float, but I know that at least I can see the way ahead again.  I know where I am going.

So, if the writing makes you stop, just stop.  Something is still happening.  The writing only looks like it is going backwards, like a planet in retrograde.  Really, it is still moving forward.  You are still moving forward.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.  Now, Peggy, back to work.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. This is so true! It seems like a lot of the “writer’s block” we hear tossed around has more to do with problems in the story that haven’t been uncovered yet. I’m so glad you stuck through it.

    March 16, 2011

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