Here's a post I wrote about writing for Dear Saul a while ago: What to do when it all goes wrong.
Are you a writer? I know that Fiachra is, but perhaps you dabble a little yourself. In your spare time. When you’re not dealing with everybody’s problems. Maybe that’s God I’m thinking of… but I digress.
If you are a writer, particularly a writer of fiction: short stories, plays, novels… anything with a plot, really… you will inevitably hit a wall. It might be near the start, halfway through, just when you thought you were finished… but there always comes a point when you will stop, sigh, read over the whole thing and find that it just isn’t working.
This can be for so many reasons. For me, it’ll often be bad planning. I tend to get over-excited and jump into a story with just a vague idea of where I want it to go, so that I don’t exactly know how to get there.
Sometimes, you’ll have almost lost your character’s voice: would he/she/it really do this or that? Maybe you don’t like your idea, maybe you’ve gotten bored of it…
Maybe, and this is common with us silly writers, it can be something as vague as “Oh, I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel right…”
So what can we do when we hit that wall? Cry? Give up? Just apologise to our characters and say that it’s been fun, but this just isn’t working out? It’s not us, it’s them?
We could. But then we wouldn’t be writers. Writers never knowingly put a good story down.
Or maybe that’s Dog’s Trust. But the point stands.
So, some techniques I’ve used in the past include:
· Change the tense. If you’re trying to achieve high drama but your writing seems to waffle or drag slowly, maybe you should try writing a piece in the present tense. At the moment, a story I’m working on has a lot of action scenes, which aren’t my strong point. I’ve decided on the present tense and it makes everything a lot more direct and exciting… um, I hope.
· Change the person! I don’t mean dump your character in favour for someone prettier, skinnier, better in bed… but if you’re writing in the third person and it feels too detached, try first person. Or maybe switch to somebody else’s point of view! Who has the most interesting part in the story, and whose life do you want to remain a little bit of a mystery? My rule is that whoever doesn’t have the point of view gets the most power. If you want to explore many different characters, you could either use third person, or switch between POVs. I’m currently using this method, and it can be very tricky to get right, but it’s so much fun when you do!
· Forget about it. Scene just won’t go right? Move on to something else. Do a bit of character development. Edit the beginning. Read over. Skip the scene and come back to it when you know where you want it to go. Just keep writing. Remember that with every single word you write, every image that flickers into that head of yours, you are getting to know your characters. You’re building up the scenery. You’re adding a splash of colour to a personality, shading in the plot here and there… you’re learning.
· Leave it altogether. The project I’m working on right now has been in existence since I was twelve—that’s five years! Some of you might say: “Only five?” Most will probably say: “And you’re not done yet? Get a wriggle on!” Truth is, after working on it for about two years, I decided I just couldn’t do it justice. Not that the plot was going to win a Pulitzer prize (hah), but I was just so in love with the characters that I knew their story deserved to be told, and well… but I just wasn’t the person to do it, not then. I was writing what I wanted to write, not what the characters’ lives would have been like. So a few months ago I started really thinking about it again, and wrote a few pieces. So far, so good. I feel like I’ve grown up enough to try again. Who knows? Second time round might be the charm… So don’t be afraid to leave your crummy, half-arsed story and come back with fresh eyes in a few weeks. Months. Years. When you’ve reincarnated. Whatever.
· Scrap it and start again. This may sound so painful: weeks, months, years of work… all gone? I’m not saying throw it all in the trash, but don’t be afraid to start something from scratch. Take all the work you’ve already done, and put it down to experience. Remember that nothing will be wasted, because writing isn’t something you can accomplish. You can learn all the chords on a guitar. You can get to the highest levels on your computer game. You can get seven A1s in the Leaving Cert… but nobody will ever “complete” writing. Every word you write is an improvement on the last. Start again, better than ever. Recently, my hard-drive popped its clogs and I lost almost all my writing. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t gutted. Because no matter how much you’ve got down on paper, you’ll always be a writer. My characters live on, their dwelling-places exist, they still have loves and lives, adventures… I’ve just got to write them down again, now I know exactly what they are.
· Believe in yourself. I know I sound like a guidance counsellor, but seriously. If you think it’s all turned to rubbish… maybe it hasn’t. Maybe it’s good. Just keep going. You owe it to yourself, your characters, and of course, your adoring public. So keep writing no matter what.
I hope this will help you, Saul (and everyone else), to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when things go wrong.
Lots of love,
Lots of love,
Catherine Ann x