Is there a method to your (writing) madness?
I’m in the middle of the madness right now, trying to connect the beginning with the end. It’s the part that makes me want to give up, throw it all into the recycling bin, and start on the next idea. And that next idea always seems so tantalizingly easy when you’re in the messy middle, doesn’t it?
I’ve tried outlines, freewheeling, drawing arcs, storyboarding, and software. If there was a method, I tried it. Then, I read “From Where You Dream” by Robert Olen Butler and found something that works for me.
When I feel the tug of a new story and it has persisted for a while, I spend time imagining scenes for the story. Each notecard gets a few words, just enough to capture the essence of the scene, usually with some sensory detail (a taste, color, sound, feeling, sight). No writing, just scenes. I let them pile up in no particular order for a while, until I’ve run out of things to write down. Then I spread all the notecards out, try out different patterns, think about the story arc, and add new cards until I think I’ve got the whole thing in a stack.
That’s when I start writing.
It’s all good for a while…things crank along, the scenes flow, I’m having fun.
Then, like any good story, something goes off track.
Maybe I move a scene up. Or write something new. Or, like now, I’m missing something…and that one empty spot becomes the black hole into which the rest falls. That’s where I am right now. In the middle. See it there on the table?
So, I fuss for a while, tell everyone that I’m certain that the whole thing is a hopeless mess and I’m an imposter and nobody would want to waste their time reading this stuff anyway.
I’m lousy company in the middle.
Then, after a few days of being a grump, a scene pops into my head. It might be because I was doing nothing in particular, or I overheard something, or somebody said something totally unrelated to my story and *pop* there’s the missing notecard.
It’s easy to read a success story or to close the covers of the latest best seller and feel like you’ll never get there. I feel that way a lot. Especially in the middle.
It takes a lot to get to the finish line. Whether you’re cooking a meal, sewing something, painting, or writing. Getting better is hard work and nobody I know churns out amazing first drafts. They work at it.
I started keeping track of how long it took me to write a first draft, to revise, to do another draft, etc. It’s useful to have that kind of record becuase, eventually, even we forget what it took to bring a project over the finish line.
So, here’s to hoping for inspiration at the right moments. And fortitute in the middle.
(Originally published March 2, 2016)