Write Knowing You May Have to Cut It

A lot of people ask me about writer’s block, how I deal with it, and so forth. Honestly, I think the notion of a creative block is almost as romantic and fantastical as the romantic notion of “the writer’s life” I was writing about yesterday.

I mean, people get blocked in all kinds of endeavors, and usually that’s because they don’t know what their goal is, or they don’t know what steps to take to achieve it. Most blocks of any kind (I learned this while ghostwriting a time-management book) occur because you haven’t broken your task down into small enough chunks. Any daunting task is just a too-complex job. Make it into ten smaller jobs, listed in order, and then you’re facing something you can actually do. That’s true, but it’s also theory. So, let’s look at how this applies to creative work.

Even if you know what’s supposed to happen next in the plot because you have your outline all set up, sometimes after you’ve written a few scenes, you realize your outline isn’t going to work. Now, you’re in the tricky position of having to figure out what happens next while also having to figure out the details–dialogue, action, conflicts, etc. You’re in that position? I meant to say I’m in that position. That is to say, this happened to me just yesterday.

What was supposed to happen in the outline just didn’t make any sense anymore, now that I know these characters better, and now that I see how many pages each plot point takes up, which has been a lot more than I expected, the plot is turning out to be simpler than expected, meanwhile the characters and their motivations are turning out to be far more complex.

I like it this way, but I wrote one unexpected scene, which didn’t link with the next scene I was supposed to write, and now I’m floating in the ether, not knowing how I’m going to drive these characters back to the plot I intended (if I even do that at all.)

Questions like: Will I have to change the entire ending? Will I have to add in a new character? Do I have to erase some scenes? run through my mind, and suddenly I feel like I’m not focused anymore and don’t know what to do next. That’s pretty much where the whole writer’s block thing comes in. But, to me, this is an illusion.

I’m suffering from the illusion that this book is going to write itself–that I can follow my outline like I’m painting by numbers and the book will magically appear, but that’s not true and never has been true. That’s just not the creative process. If the next chapter isn’t happening, to me, that just means I need to go back to experimentation. I’ll write a chapter about a completely different character. Write another from another perspective. Try something new that I might have to cut out. That’s the key. Be ready to write a lot of stuff that gets cut out. Experiment enough, and one of those ideas pays off.

The other trick is to give your problem to the character. If I don’t know what she should do, I put her in a location and have her realize she doesn’t know what to do. She runs through her options, looks at her goal, and I let her make the decision.

If she can’t decide, I’ll let another character enter the scene and he/she can help her figure out what to do, using his/her unique perspective. In the end, the entire decision-making scene might get cut out, but it helps move the story forward. Anyway, those are a couple of tricks for how I deal with a block, when it comes.

There are a million types of blocks and a million ways of solving them, of course, but I think it always has to do with taking the effort to write work with the full understanding that it might be cut. Even work you cut, though, is a bridge to the work you keep.

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