Sep 27, 2008

Not The Way I Planned It

By Christine Thackeray

Last year I had a plan. I had published a short novel, "Crayon Messages" and completed a non-fiction collaboration with my sister on C. S. Lewis. The plan was to finish my next "visiting teaching adventure" by the end of the summer and with the fall get started on the historical fiction novel I have brewing in my brain.

Well, the summer was a bust. Unexpected family events and a move left me with very few written pages. I think when the children left school I was at page 45 and when they started I was in the 80's.

It was not for lack of trying. I plotted out the entire novel, and even wrote a chapter by chapter synopsis. Then, based on advice I heard at a writers conference, I wrote three or four unconnected chapters that I felt the most passionate about. But when I tried to connect the dots, it seemed too manipulated and the delete button swept away hours of wasted time.

Finally, I buckled down and started writing in a line from where I left off. I started reading more which helped me to change my POV and many days I just muscled my way through scenes that left me empty.

I still have to thank Marsha for the WOW (Week of Writing) because I was still flailing, having my characters push forward without being sure where they were going to go.

Friday afternoon, when the kids arrived home I got up and fixed them an afterschool snack, went and volunteered at the school and picked up my sixteen year old from cross country. When I had left the computer, my dialogue was half finished but I couldn't write the rest. When I came back, I realized that I didn't need the rest but wanted to follow a different character completely. Suddenly all the dominoes fell in place and it is actually going to be done in just nine more chapters and it is going to be brilliant!

I was recently reading a book by Collier on how to write and sell your first novel. One of the statements he makes is that if you decide you really want to be a writer, you need to give yourself a writing quota. Although you may well exceed it, whether you are sick, busy or even if your brain has totally shut down for the afternoon, you need to write your minimum quota for the day. Blogs and writing exercises don't count- it has to be on your work in progress.

Your only break is when you finish your rough draft and then you take a two week vacation from the computer. Live, read the paper, look for new plots and things that interest you. Then you edit, send it out and start again.

When I first read this advice I was skeptical but after what I've learned from WOW, bad writing can take you through the hard spots so you can see where you have to shift to make it better. With me I had to go back and change multiple conversations to make the new version work but it does work, which is fun.

I have a friend who plans out her books and always writes from her synopsis. What I keep learning is that it is alright that she does it that way. For me, I do the research, create the characters, have a clear story arc and then let nature take its course. Until the last word is written I have to be willing to change scenes, characters and plot in order to build the story that I want.

For me the heart of the story is what the reader feels when they read the last word and put it down. I hope they smile and feel like they have been brought to a new place and have a new understanding of the beauty of their lives.

So like my perfectly plotted novel that didn't turn out that way, my time table also has been dashed in the wind. The plan is important but flexibility is also important to achieve the desired outcome. Wooh, that is so true of my life! Nothing has gone as planned. So when I sit and write out what I'm going to accomplish today and a friend calls or my husband happens to work at home that day, I should simply shrug and go with the flow as long as its taking me the right direction..


  1. It sounds like most of us writers are in the same boat. Here's to pushing forward and not giving up even when life interferes!!! :)

  2. Excellent advice Christine. We do this at work when we write our byline stories. We always give ourselves that 2-week moment to read it over once more. And believe me, even writing dull stuff can help keep you in the groove so to speak.


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