I'm in the last week of my self-imposed writing challenge to write every day in July. For Week 3, in lieu of a normal blog post, I wrote a story for Elise Valente's blog.
“The Fourth Instance” is a scifi story about what happens when you procrastinate on your current WIP. Um, oops, no. But that's actually how I wrote this story. Never underestimate my ability to procrastinate by doing something “useful” and “important.” But I digress.
I worked that short story up one side and down the other (is this just a southern saying?) and still never quite got what I was looking for in the pacing and the voicing. Then there's always the conflict of “what I originally imagined” and “what something turns out to be.” Why is it that even if something is going well, if it doesn't look like our original plans we feel a little upset, striving to get to that original view?
Working through some of these feels generated other feels. I most epically don't have all this figured out, but some of the things that are helping me right now might help others, so here goes.
When Your Story Isn't Turning Out “Right”
Consult an expert. This may look different for each person. I'm a verbal processor, so I don't even know what I'm thinking until I've had the chance to talk it out. Sometimes all I need to do is try to explain my situation to my husband and then stuff becomes clear.
Put the offender in time out. Take a little time away from whatever is misbehaving and do something else. You can ignore the troublemaker for a couple minutes to give yourself some new perspective. Or, if it's really stuck, put that story/piece of art/song/whatever in time out and come back to it tomorrow. Take the weekend off for that particular project and write something else just for fun. Read something new. Don't let the story tangle you up inside.
Remember that you can always change things. I am a compulsive hoarder of words. I save old drafts as a safety net in case I do irreparable damage. Just knowing that I can change things, to refer back to old notes for some ridiculous minute detail, helps me have courage to go for big changes.
Roll with it. Who says that this new thing that your story is morphing into isn't going to be cool? Or better? Maybe it won't be what you originally expected, but maybe it's going to be way more awesome, deeper, and more colorful.
Stop judging yourself. Yeah, I know. I just said for you to build a life size Empire State Building using only Cheesewhiz and a prayer. What you write today is setting the stage for what you will write tomorrow – figuratively and literally. You don't know the full effect of the experience you are gaining as you put together every blog post, short story, novella, or novel draft.
Stop judging yourself, part 2: Everyone has to start somewhere. Give yourself permission to suck. My friend John Adamus (Twitter, Blog), masterful writer-editor-encourager, changed the way I think with just that one phrase: “give yourself permission to suck.” It's ok for things to be “rough,” but the point is that you can learn from it and get better.
Do you know what for me the most comforting part of having my stuff not turn out “right” is? This means that I am writing, creating, and working. I'm actually doing something. I'm making progress.