Thursday, April 30, 2015

Encore: Utter Silence

I first posted the following in January, 2013.  This was a popular post, garnering over 70 comments and touching a chord in many of you.  (And, of course, you offered your trademark advice and encouragement, as always.) I've added updated comments at the end.


Perhaps if I talk about this, it will work itself out.  And perhaps, if you're dealing with the same thing, things will work out for you, too.

It's the I-can't-write-this-plot-for-the-life-of-me syndrome.  And it's VERY. BAD.

Here's the thing.  We have to keep writing, keep going.  Right?  In those in between places, it's especially important--at least for me--to have something warm on my plate.  ("Between" as in "between the other things that are going on".  Anything from waiting to hear from crit partners on a recent revision, to waiting for the next sub round with editors, to waiting for anything you can possibly think of. Because at least fifty percent of a writer's life consists of waiting.)

So, in my "between place", I've been working on a YA SF.  I've got characters I already like, a setting I'm happy with, and a premise that makes me think, Yeah. This is cool. This could really work.  Good stuff, yes?

Alas. I can't plot it to save my life.  I've worked it from every angle you can imagine -- raw beat-sheeting, logline, backstory scenes, scenes from the novel, trying to come up with an ending, planning a single chapter--I HAVE DONE IT ALL.

And I still don't have a story.

This has thrust me into a sort of writerly crisis.  When I wake up and the day snaps into focus, I remember that I am unable to plot my story, and a sinkhole opens.  As in, here we go again.  I'll waste my writing time staring, checking Twitter, and typing admonishments to myself.

No, really.  Want to see something straight out of my Scrivener notes?

(Okay. I'm bracing myself for a moment of raw transparency.)

Authoress's Notes to Self:

Know what? I don’t know. I don’t have the foggiest idea.  I thought this war was about disputed space.  Fine.  Then what in the world would be so valuable that ISN’T space, that both sides would destroy the other for it?  And why would EVELYN have it?

Did Evelyn steal it from someone?  If so, who?  Kyung-Soon’s friend-who-remains-nameless?  The Quantum Corporal?  Him?

If so, why did HE have it?

What IS the blasted thing?

In the end, I have no idea. In the end, I suck at plotting. SUCK.  I’m great at developing characters and apparently I’ve got great pacing.  But plots?  No.  This is so hard; so incredibly counter-intuitive for me.  I don’t know why I ever started writing novels in the first place.

You're allowed to laugh.  Or shake your head.  Or cluck your tongue at me.  But, yeah.  This is real; it's where I am.

Well, at least it's where I am with this story.  It's just...well, sucking the life from me.  All the tried-and-true taking a walk or staying completely away from the story to give it space...haven't worked.

Sometimes it's hard not to despair.  Sometimes it's not hard to rethink everything.  Like, why am I doing this to myself?  I can do other things.  There are actually other things in my life that I do.  That I'm good at.  That bring me pleasure.

But this writing thing?  It won't go away.  I need to write. I am never so bereft as when I am not in the midst of breathing life into a story.

What's a gal to do?

I don't know.  What do you do?  Pull out another story?  I don't have those; I'm the one-idea-at-a-time type.  Quit?  I refuse.  Take a break?  Well, yeah....except when you haven't actually written anything, it's hard to justify a break.  What, exactly, is a break from nothing?

So.  There is it.  Authoress's Science Fiction Crisis.  Not even chocolate is helping.

Pouring time and energy into my clients' partials has been a godsend.  It's invigorating to inject creative input into someone else's work--hopefully to his benefit.  And it keeps my brain from atrophying.

But it's not writing.  So the writing part of my brain is weeping.

Do you have an answer?  Or are you hanging onto the flotsam along with me?  I'm sure we can stay afloat--but I'm not sure when we'll find fresh water.

Please.  Fresh water, someone?



I wrote the novel, rewrote the novel, and it's now on submission.  It is, to date, my strongest work.  In fact, I love it with all my heart.  So much, in fact, that when my contemporary dance teacher played a song in class that was from my playlist for this particular novel, I teared up.  (And then I sent her the first chapter so she would understand the emotional connection.  Fortunately, she loved it!)

Moral?  Wait for it...  (Tick. Tick. Tick.)  Ready?  JUST. KEEP. WRITING.

Yeah, you knew that.  But sometimes it helps to see someone else's journey from frustration to fruition, if only to be reminded that it DOES make a difference when you don't give up.  I remember the angst of trying to plot this novel.  And you know what?  I think that, just maybe, when something is REALLY biting our butts, it's because it has the potential to be really good.  Not that it's good in the moment--not yet.  But good stuff isn't easy, right?  So maybe that thought will inspire you the next time you're feeling really overwhelmed by your latest project.

Anyway, it's certainly helping me right now, because THE NEVER-ENDING WIP STILL ISN'T FINISHED.  Seriously.  This is me, the 3-months-to-a-first-draft queen, still slogging through.  But something in my guttiest of guts keeps urging me, "This is brain-suckingly hard because it has the potential to be fantastic. Suck it up!"  So I keep going.

There you have it.  From hand-wringing to tears in dance class.  From mental mess to finished masterpiece.  It happens.  You can do it.

Now go write.


  1. This is an awesome post! I missed the first one, but I'm glad you reposted with an (awesome) update! Thank you.

    I'm a panster, so being unable to plot (for the most part, anyway) a story doesn't stop me from writing on it. My most recent WIP, in fact, is one where the plot is still revealing itself. I have a rough idea of how things will end, which is usually all I need for writing, where we started, and where we'll end. Everything in-between comes as I write. If I hit something that needs to be sorted, my usual routine is to work on another WIP in progress while my brain juices relating to the stuck WIP age and ferment and finally turn into fine whisky, and solve my plot bunny.

    What causes me the worse grief, and what can stop my writing entirely, is that slump of 'I've gotten all the *right* sorts of rejections, on this MS, but no offers, and I'm currently not submitting, so which WIP is the strongest? Which one do I spend my precious, hard-won-I-work-full-time-can-only-write-a-little-each-day time on???' Having multiple projects is immensely helpful to my writing style - as long as I've got at least ONE thing 'in the wind' out there bringing in requests and feedback. But being trapped in the tepid waters of 'You're so close you can taste it, but still don't have an agent' is the destroyer of all creativity. Do I work on the dystopia that critique partners swear is *the one* even though dystopia is 'dead'? Or the contemporary? Or what about the fantasy with the faeries? The one with the dwarves? Or the magical realism one? What once kept me going, because it represented that horizon of 'once you get an agent, it'll be good to have other projects going' has become the bog of eternal 'I can't objectively tell which one is strongest because I simply don't have the market know-how of an agent or editor' wherein I must very slowly and determinedly plod onward, working on whichever draws my fixation, rather than trying to force myself down one specific path on the basis of an uneducated guess.

  2. Thank you for this lovely post and encouraging update! I too find plotting to be the hardest of hard things, so it's nice to know I'm not alone in that. And yes, the 'what is this *thing* that's so important!' or the 'why-oh-why are they attacking *now* instead of twenty years ago!' Big chunks of my world-building (especially the social and magical bits) tend to come from needing to force things into a shape that give me a plot that makes sense!! and then scrambling to cover up around the edges that I've done that. But yay for slogs the bear fruit!

  3. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry when I read this post. For months I've been wrestling with a manuscript and have often wondered why I keep showing up to write when there are so many other things that would benefit from my attention. Day after day, I get up from a couple hours of slogging with what feels like nothing to show for my time. After seven manuscripts, I thought I'd figured this novel-writing thing out, but this story is not progressing in any sort of cohesive fashion. And I like cohesive.

    I'm glad that out of so much angst you arrived at something you love. It gives me hope, and a reminder to keep showing up. Because that's the key, isn't it?

    Best wishes for your masterpiece in progress.

  4. What an awesome story! Thanks so much for sharing because we all need to hear this - all the time. Keep on writing. Keep on slogging. We will make it!