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Smoothing Out Snags

How I do what I do when I’m writing the things.

Today I made progress with a bit of Prodigals plot that’s been bugging me for a while now. This meant going back to several early scenes,  re-phrasing dialogue and adding snippets of description to create foreshadowing and anchor later bits of plot, plus adding some descriptions and deleting others.

It’s the writing habit I’ve struggled ever harder to accept, especially these past 16 months or so. (My Year of Authoring)  Everyone says it’s the wrong way to write. Not in so many words, no *  but the overwhelming message from seminars, workshops, and advice columns is this: Proper Professional writers let their creativity flow free, who stop self-editing, leave what’s already on the page alone. Don’t pick at things, bad writer, no! Just finish those rough drafts, forward ho!

Not me. My books crawl over the first-draft finish line sidelong, crabbing their way to the words “The End” in fits and starts and meanders. Or I don’t end them at all.  It’s yet another way I do this writerly gig all wrong. Yup. I am Bad Writer. ™

If my mind is focused on an earlier section, the only way forward is back. Changing a few words of dialogue to bring in nuance or set up a later joke, re-writing a sentence ten times to tighten the action, or moving a scene to another part of the timeline and making it fit there —that is what frees up my mental log jams and gets new words flowing again. It’s the course my brain follows. I can do other things, but that story won’t move again until I clear the way. Not even if I add a bear. (Or a lion or a tiger.)

Progress goes sideways, upside-down and twisted, or nothing happens.

I’m not always a Bad Writer. Chiseling out the initial form of a story and discovering the basic shape–that part I can do according to Proper Form. ™  I come up with a beginning scene and ending and  write from the start. Plot details come into focus as I complete scene after scene, and I progress forward with only a minor hitches here or there to add in things whenever I realize they needed to be there all along.

But there always comes a point when I cannot finish — usually before or during the final action–unless I substantially add to and/or change the earlier story at the same time. Forward progress grinds to a halt while I tinker and fix and fuss.

This isn’t a discovery-writing issue: it happens  after I know how events should play out to the end of the story. It’s the point when story-sculpting becomes more like word-weaving,  where I’m connecting ideas to ideas instead of seeking the original shape in imaginary stone.

And after six times ’round the long-form fiction track, I need to make peace with it being an inevitable occurrence. It isn’t fussing. It isn’t over-thinking. It isn’t self-doubt. My writing approach is analytical, consistent, and gets results. Slow ones, and maybe ones that don’t look like anyone else’s in the world, but quality results all the same.

The self-doubt is what makes me think i should try  another way because all the cool kids do.  Believing in my own process is a million times harder than it should be. I hate pushing against a powerful tide of disfavor. This is me, forging a dike with words of my own.

Writing out the final action of any story over about  5,000 words will  require tracing back every thread leading to the climax and smoothing out rough spots on each converging piece in play. As. I. Go. When the urge hits, when the itch gets fierce, when I look at what’s there and think, “No, that doesn’t fit, I need to fix it,” my only course is a careful walk backwards between the fragile shapes of half-made ideas, not a plunge headlong to any resolution as long as it’s final.

Trust in the Force, and all that. I will bumble to the end of my plotline my own way, not so much marching to my own drumbeat as bouncing into every story molecule along the way in Brownian exuberance. I won’t get there by the right path or the fastest one, but I will get there and look fabulous when I arrive.

So there.

* when the experts in front of the class  always say, “bottom line, everyone has to find their own way, do what works, but hey, you should try it this way if you’re stuck because this is a known winner,” it’s a mixed message to say the least.

By K. M. Herkes

Author, gardener, and cat wrangler.