Watch Out for the Potholes!

We’ve all felt it.  The gut lurch of hitting a pothole, especially if you live in a colder climate where the road freezes and thaws, over and over, every winter.  And every molecule of pavement goes on its own journey, reconfiguring again as an entirely new creation, never better, always bumpy.

We writers have to watch out for those same bumps along our road.  Here are some things to remember when next you grab your stomach as you careen over one of those writing bumps:

1.  Remember why you write in the first place.  Does the act give you satisfaction?  Is that why you started?  Hold on to that thought and enjoy your writing.

2.  Try to keep some sanity in your life by knowing that the publishing world is in turmoil and writers are often paying the price.  We are asked to write great books, have impeccable research and unique ideas, go to loads of conferences and workshops, pay for edits before ever submitting our works, and, oh, by the way, have a dominant social media presence online.  Part of the reason for this is that in days gone by, writing was solitary.  Today a writer’s reach is global; hence, we may be asked many more marketing things because they are so accessible via our computers.  Do what you can do, and remember number 1.

3.  Try not to fall into the trap of writing to rigid guidelines.  Often they are what a certain editor or agent wants because that formula sold once and may again.  Of course you want to grab their attention, but remember that every one of them will want some different variation.  Be true to your own wants, and remember number 1.

At the end of the road, we writers need to be happy with what we’ve done.  Fitting our books into rigid guidelines so that they become formulaic, with each succeeding one a version of the first, can bleed out your creativity, just as surely as the ‘doctors’ of old bled out their patients’ vitality.  Of course, if selling is the only thing you want, follow whatever road will work.  But if you need more, listen to your inner self.  Decide your goals and act accordingly.

At 12:23 last night I took an unusual step for me.  I quit a writers’ group.  One whose guidelines I had worked very hard to follow.  Lying in bed, sleepless again, I figured about 40 hours would see me to the end of the first set of tasks, and none of that time was working on my own writing.  Then I would need to start the next requirements.  All of this with little help for my own work as the genres are so different.  Historical fiction needs editors who know it.  Finally, I stole out of bed, turned on my computer, and wrote the notes needed so that I could return to enjoying my writing journey.

This morning I have been picking up the pieces, repaving, filling in the holes, and trying to ensure that I won’t hit this particular bump again.

What do you do when your writing hits a snag?  Consider telling about one you hit and sharing what you learned from it.

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20 thoughts on “Watch Out for the Potholes!

  1. One of the biggest snags I’ve ever hit was the night I started my own blog when I realized that the piece I was ‘rewriting’ in the genre that had been suggested wasn’t fitting – it was like trying to force the round peg through the square hole. I had a panic about what this meant about the time I had ‘wasted’ but I eventually made a decision to start over in a different direction and that has a made a considerable difference both to the project itself and how I’ve been feeling about it.

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    • Hi Em! Don’t we all just hate starting over? Ditching those already written gems is like throwing out a diamond necklace sometimes. Of course, I’ve never had one so I don’t really know! Obviously you did the right thing.

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      • I think it’s more like realizing that it wasn’t a diamond necklace, I just thought it was…but there were actually, a few true diamonds on the strand. The trick is finding those diamonds and making sure you don’t lose those in the rework!
        (and thank you, I hope I am doing the right thing! 😉 )

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  2. I think the hardest thing about critique groups and critique partners is knowing when it’s time to move on. The group that fit you when you started, might not be the best fit now. You’ve grown and learned and you’re ready to move on. Tough to make that break, but it will definitely be better for you, your writing, and your sleepless nights!

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    • Right on, Jessica! And I think it’s great to have people critiquing in a similar genre to yours. Much as I love you, I don’t think I could offer much in-depth criticism to help you as my historical fiction is quite different from you genre. Hope you’re okay with that! 🙂

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  3. Elaine, some of the best decisions are the most difficult. You are wise to heed your instinct.

    Have to say, love the ‘gut lurch’ and the comparison off bleeding creativity to bleeding a patient. Keep writing like that up, and we’ll all think you’re a writer! LOL

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  4. I realized one of the facts around which I had built major scenes was in fact wrong. Panic. Ignore it or rewrite major portions, including changing the nationality of a major character? Emailed my writing partner to figuratively cry on her shoulder.

    She imediately replied that such major revision was too much work, and made a suggestion or two that got the old brain working and I came up with a solution that only required an added paragraph or two. Finding the right critter is invaluable but you sometimes have to join a lot of groups before you find someone on the same wavelength.

    I think a writer has to make the difficult decision in the beginning as to whether they are writing to be published above all, or whether they have a story they are aching to tell in their own way and just hope an editor likes it. I refuse to add wherewolves or vampires to my historical novel just because it’s popular right now.

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    • Oh, I am so glad to hear your point of view, Ruth. And it’s worth restating: writers must decide whether they are writing to be published above all, or to tell their story in their own way. Thanks so much for your wisdom!

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  5. I so agree about writing from your own heart and not to a bunch of rules and stipulations made by others. And I”m with Ruth “I refuse to add wherewolves or vampires to my historical novel just because it’s popular right now.” I could no more write about that stuff than jump over the moon. Nor do I even want to read about them!

    As to writer’s groups, I have been fortunate to be in a good one where we have really bonded and get along wonderfully and we have learned a lot together. But I’m sure I would do what you have done, Elaine, had my experience been different. I can’t afford to waste time – I’m not getting any younger after all! 🙂

    I had to start over once as Em did. I wrote in the first person and realized it wasn’t the best POV to tell my story. I completely rewrote it in third person and was much happier with it. Then I realized it wasn’t really a novel – only a novella. And there is very little opportunity to publish a novella. So, back to the drawing board again. Only this time I didn’t have to start over. I had a couple of other short stories and decided to write those into it. It took a lot of work to weave them in as if they belonged there, but it has made a much better story with more characters to round it out and it took the story from about 26,000 words to over 90,000. Now all I have to do is get it published!

    It’s a lot of work, but as long as you are enjoying the journey, it is worth it. To follow someone else’s instructions would be a chore probably not worth the effort. Thanks for another great post, Elaine.

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    • Only another writer can know how much work what you have done with your novel actually is. Good for you, Diane. And thanks for writing such a long and meaningful comment. Sharing our experiences is so worthwhile!

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  6. Amen, Elaine! Thank-you! I am not alone! I used too many exclamation marks!

    I am part of that school that writes for the story not the glory. You point #3 are words to live by.

    As for writing groups, they are a great resourse, but ultimately, when they get too big or start taking up your writing time, then it’s time to move on. Afterall, the main thing about the group is to work on your writing, make it better via input and if you are not getting that… they will understand.

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    • Sometimes we just have to exclaim! And I am so glad for your second paragraph. Ruth has written words to write by, hasn’t she?
      I was looking at Ink Slingers site. You writers in Durham have some awesome resources. I wonder if my husband would consider moving…….

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    • Dale, we have made the decision to keep our writing group to no more than 10. We have 2 readers and 2 critiques each month, and we limit the amount to 3 pages. That way we all get a chance quite often and aren’t bogged down with a huge workload. We have several published authors, both self and traditional. One teaches a writing course at a local college. Another specification is that the members must be Christians. The goal for each of us is to get the Christian message out there in one genre or another, and that in itself helps strengthen all of us to keep writing.

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      • Diane, I have been told the same thing about exclamation marks and I do see that they can be overused to the detriment of a story. That being said, there are still times to use them, I think, because the words need emphasizing, not because the words are weak but because those words fit the situation as what the character might say, and there is no better way to put out the emotion.
        Consider someone running down the street, shouting that there is a fire. “Fire! Fire!” Exclamation marks are acceptable, even needed, here. By contrast, consider “I haven’t seen you for years!” Becky shouted. Are the exclamation marks necessary? I think not and would probably leave them out. Also in my novel, I have military commands being shouted and I decided they needed exclamations. Others may disagree.
        The bottom line seems to be to use words which are so strong in themselves they don’t need the punctuation to do the work for them.
        One final note. I’ve noticed on Twitter that we all use lots of exclamation marks and I think that is to inject emotion into our tweets. Whether it’s good or bad, lots of people do it. “Thx for following me on Twitter!” is one I use often, but I would never use that in an email or a letter.

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  7. I was on a large writer’s site where if you had thick skin, you could learn a lot. Trouble was that Newbies were getting nailed by the veteran writers there. I watched as a poet thought they understood what Haiku was, and they were told in a dozen different ways just how lousy their piece was; that it broke all the rules. I learned how to present certain poems and such without being too bloodied by these folks.

    On another site, I was constantly told that I didn’t need to post work there anymore, since they felt I should just go and get published. Was I upset? No, they were telling me that my work was ready and needed little development. One guy said get out of here, you’re making us all look bad. LOL

    P.S. Trust me when I say that some pot holes are good for us. LOL

    Where eagles fly,
    Don (Greywolf)

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