I’ve discovered (yet another) bad habit of mine when it comes to writing. When I say “discovered”, of course, what I actually mean is “finally acknowledged something my husband has been saying for years”.
I over-edit my story ideas.
Like most people, the reason I start writing a particular story is because something about the idea excites me. I barrel in with my newfound enthusiasm and get straight to work on it, until I hit some kind of brick wall.
Usually, what this brick wall means is that there is a specific feature about the story that isn’t working. I trust my instincts, and try to pay attention to them, so I stop and re-think the whole story. Quite often, this involves my brain wandering off at a dozen tangents and deciding that the story would work better in a whole other country. Or time zone. Or universe.
A perfect example of this is my 2009 NaNoWriMo attempt. If you haven’t ever heard of NaNo before, it’s a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November. I’d half-heartedly attempted it a few times – usually giving up before I hit my first thousand words – but in 2009, I had a perfect idea. It was going to be a crime thriller with a main character who has a unique psychic-type ability. I had it all planned out, including detailed character biographies, a timeline and lots of other useless detail.
Two days before I kicked off, I (probably correctly) deduced that my main character wasn’t using his abilities enough to make it stand out from every other crime novel on the shelves. It needed something more. Something to make it more unique. So, instead of doing what I should have done and re-worked the plot to utilise his ability better, I made the dramatic decision to set the entire story on another planet and make it more of a Sci-Fi Western. As it happens, I did successfully write the full 50,000 words, albeit without actually completing the story. But I wasn’t happy with it.
I know what the problem is. I turned my back on the original story – the one that had excited me. This was no longer the novel I had wanted to write. The characters had changed beyond all recognition. The world was one that felt like it had stepped out of an episode of a generic cowboy show. There was nothing left of my original gritty crime story.
So I’m planning to go back to this. Starting at the beginning and reminding myself why I fell in love with the character and the story. Maybe this time, when I hit that inevitable brick wall, I’ll be able to keep my mind clearly focused on the basics…