Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Knowing When To Move On When You're Stuck On A Chapter

Whenever I run into problems during a scene or chapter, I have an unfortunate tendency to stubbornly slog away at the offending words, often for weeks at a time, until I grow so sick of staring at the pages I force myself to move on to another part of the manuscript, if only to maintain my sanity. Hardly what one might consider an efficient use of time.  A month or two ago, I resolved that I would no longer go this route, promising myself I would only work on a scene or chapter up until the point where my muse became antsy or bored and then move on to something else. And so far, the results have been encouraging.

My productivity has increased, and I’m a much happier camper these days. Yesterday, for example, after pounding away on a first draft of a chapter for a couple of hours, (first drafts are like wading through molasses for me), I rewarded myself by putting that chapter aside, jumping to an earlier, more polished chapter, and doing a light edit. Quite refreshing. Of course I do have to be careful. There’s always the danger I’ll misuse this technique to avoid working on challenging chapters, but I'm optimistic this won’t happen.

Some of you may be uncomfortable with the idea of jumping around so much, but this technique seems to fit my style perfectly. I’ve always been a multitasker, never happy to work on only one project at a time. I typically read six to ten books simultaneously, choosing to read whichever suits me at the moment. (I will admit this can be a real problem when trying to review books in a timely manner.) This multitasking behavior even influences my writing style. My best scenes come when I have multiple threads occurring at once. Some writers can write an entire chapter around one event. Not me. If I don’t have several subplots in a scene, the words just don’t seem to want to come.

So for now, I’m going to stick with method. By the end of the year I should know whether or not it’s a keeper.

ChemistKen

20 comments:

  1. A big fat YES to this one! I have the same tendency to stick my feet in the ground and refuse to move on when I really should, and you're right, it accomplishes nothing. It's much better to work on something else, and come back to that tough spot.

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    1. Sometimes I stay stuck on one section because I want to have something to give to my crit group, but usually it's just plain stubbornness on my part. I'm too slow a writer to be wasting my time getting nothing accomplished.

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  2. I tried that once and it completely didn't work for me, although I have had success writing backwards (start with the last scene, then write the one before it, and so on). But whether I go front to back or back to front, I seem to require linearity. If I skip parts my brain has a tendency to think I already did them, and then it moves on without ever coming back.

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    1. I tend to replay scenes in my mind so many times both before and after I write it, that I never have trouble coming back to a previous scene.

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  3. I've gone that route. I think it's refreshing and awesome--especially since every scene takes a number of revisions anyway. Typically I edit over the previous chapter to get me back in the flow of things, then launch into the new chapter, with my creativity sparked. There's the occasion though where I just write a random scene because I LOVE IT and it's been floating in my head, and then I've got the headache of making all the details match the rest of the story when it falls into sequence. They both work.

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    1. I hear you. I've actually stopped working on a current manuscript just because my muse suddenly decides I should be writing a scene for a book that I won't get to for years. I never waste the muse when I slip into creative mode.

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  4. I have a tendency to be very stubborn when I get stuck. I keep picking at it, writing bad words, deleting them. What's funny about that is when people ask me how to combat "writer's block," I tell them to walk away from the project and do something else. But half the time, I don't follow my own advice!

    I am trying to get better at this though. I need a 12-step program for learning how to WALK AWAY from the problem and come back later when the solution (inevitably) presents itself.

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    1. It's always a tough call to decide if it's best to keep plugging away at something, waiting for that aha! moment, or move on to something else, assuming that the answers will come after I've spent some time away from it.

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  5. If that works, stick with it. I slog through my first drafts much the same way, but I have to keep going. Once I begin, all I can see is reaching the damned ending.
    I can read more than one book at a time. Bummer I can't write more than one at a time.

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    1. Fortunately for me, I can be very patient, knowing that as long as I keep making progress, the story will get finished. Although I have to admit my patience is beginning to wear a little thin these days.

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  6. Do whatever works for you. I keep adapting what works and getting rid of what doesn't. I no longer feel guilty about it.

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    1. Yep. And I'm sure my tactics will change even more in the future. Thanks for the comment.

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  7. Sounds like this route is working well for you. I have also been known to skip to another project or chapter when the going gets too tough. I think it does give your brain something else to focus on so that when you come back to the place where you become stuck the words flow a little easier.

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    1. I just got so tired of wasting weeks stuck in one spot in the book. Of course, jumping around is no guarantee that when I go back to those trouble spots again that the answers will come any quicker the next time.

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  8. Glad you found a way that works for you.

    I'll go back and edit something I wrote earlier in my novel if it's really bugging me to do it. If I have a great idea for what to do to fix it and if it's a pretty big fix, then I absolutely must do it right away. I won't usually go back to edit lightly until my 1st draft is finished.

    If I'm stuck on something, I'll meditate on what to do to fix it so I can apply those fixings and write on. Sometimes it just requires some research.

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    1. Sometimes I'll be in the middle of scene or chapter when an idea for a way to fix a problem in an earlier chapter will come to me, and I'll immediately jump to that earlier chapter and work on it while the idea is still fresh in my mind.

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  9. You're quite complicated, aren't you?

    I like your idea of slogging away at a chapter/scene for a while and then rewarding yourself with a light edit somewhere else. I may try it adapting it to my writing style. A friend of mine jumps over the difficult scenes leaving a marker in all caps indicating a missing section. She then returns to it later to fill it in after the first draft is done. This was news to me. I think mixing these two approaches will let me push on until the first draft is completed.

    Also with your method, I could easily jump around filling in plot holes. Thanks for the advice. :-)

    Anna from Shout with Emaginette

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    1. I'll do whatever it takes to get my stories finished. Thanks for the comment.

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  10. Whatever works, then go for it! I think it is best if we try different ways to write here and there, so we can find out what works best for us and what doesn't.

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    1. I've definitely discovered a lot of ways that DON'T work for me, so it's only fair if I find a few that do work.

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