It’s quite a while since I’ve written about writing and even longer since I’ve written about my WIP (Work In Progress). In part, that’s because I’ve decided not to talk too much about the writing process — there are a million blogs about writing and I don’t think I have too much different to offer — but it’s also partly because I’ve been stuck.
For the last four months I’ve been stuck. I’m 33,000 words into my novel. That’s 130 pages. Just over 40% done. In other words, I’m stuck in the muddy middle.
It’s not that I’d lost inspiration. Or passion. Or drive. It’s not that I’d fallen out of love with the story. Or the characters. Or the setting.
I just didn’t know what should happen next.
See, I’m what’s known by those in the business as a “pantser”. That means that, rather than preparing a full outline before I start, I write by the seat of my pants, with no idea what’s going to happen next until the words hit the paper.
I like writing that way. I like being surprised by my characters, and letting the plot develop as I give my characters free rein to act within their personalities, ambitions and abilities. But sometimes…. sometimes it really sucks.
Like when I get stuck.
For four months I’ve been stuck. I love what I’d written so far. I’ve got a hero, a problem, and a desired outcome. I’ve had the hero attacked and almost killed, and assembled a team of allies around him. The story and characters are all set up and in perfect position for…. something.
I’d even worked out how the story was going to end — I knew what would happen in the final confrontation, who would live and who would die, who would get the girl and who would lose her, and even how the resolution would play out.
I just didn’t know how to get from point A to point B.
“I should outline it,” I said to myself. “That will help.”
I tried various methods. I tried index cards, computer programs, posters, post-it notes, a whiteboard…. Nothing. I couldn’t even put down a decent outline of what I’d already written.
So for four months I’ve done nothing.
Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve done a lot of thinking. I’ve done a couple of “novel building exercises” where I’ve written about my characters from unusual perspectives. And I’ve done a lot of thinking. (Did I say that already?)
And then last Friday I had an awesome meeting with my critique partner and fellow writer, Claire. We were talking about a series of books that I’ve been reading and I said, “I loved them but at the same time, they’re the kind of books that left me feeling totally depressed.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because they’re so amazing,” I said. “They’re easy to read, with realistic characters you can fall in love with, and stories that just… Wow. They’re not complicated, there’s no flowery language and not a lot of symbolism or anything, but they’re awesome. They’re good, honest, fun stories. And that’s what I want to write. And reading these books leaves me feeling a bit depressed because I feel like I’ll never be able to create something as awesome as this.”
And do you know what Claire said to me? She said, “Yes, you will.”
There was a whole bunch of reasons and a pep talk attached to that statement, but the overall message was one of absolute, total conviction. Yes, you will. You will create something that people love. You will create stories that people want to read and immerse themselves in and tell their friends about. You will create stories that make other writers feel overjoyed and, at the same time, slightly depressed.
Yes, you will.
I left that meeting with renewed enthusiasm and vigour. I had 45 minutes until I had to pick Big Brother up from school, so I sat down in a park nearby, pulled out a pen and a piece of paper, and started to write.
I didn’t write an outline. I just made a list.
I ignored romance sub-plots and emotional overtones and details about the magic system. I ignored character development and angst. I just focused on the plot. And I made a list.
I made a list of everything that had happened so far. Short sentences. One sentence per line.
Then I left a big gap and made a list of everything that I already knew had to happen for the build-up to the final confrontation and the resolution.
When I was finished, I looked at my sheet of paper. I had 22 sentences written down, with a gap between numbers 9 and 10.
Each of the early sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already written.
Each of the later sentences described, in very basic terms, a chapter I’d already planned to write.
And I suddenly realised something.
I’d written an outline.
And the solution to my problem was so obvious, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before.
Apparently all I need to do to get my characters from point A to point B is to have one of the characters say, “Hey! Let’s go to point B! That would fix everything!”
Yep, after four months of being stuck, it turns out I can fix all my problems with the movie cliché, “Let’s get outta here.”
Thank you, accidental outline.
You’re a lifesaver.