Crossposted from Silk And Shadows
My writing group met this last weekend and I was on a Q&A panel of new published authors. (OMG am I still considered new? I feel ancient.) We A’d all sorts of Q’s from our fellow writers, and one that particularly caught my attention was this:
What do you do about false starts?
I thought this was interesting because there are so many ways to interpret the question. False starts in what? A story? A career? What constitutes a false start? Is a false start different from a test run? Who decides it’s false?
I think it’s inevitable that everyone has experienced this: You’re going along, thinking everything’s cool… Right up until it isn’t. The smooth-rolling wheel catches, and suddenly you’re airborne.
(And then, at least according to this illustration, your head pops off.)
False starts don’t always happen near the start, which makes it worse. But when that sinking feeling comes (and it comes shortly after the airborne feeling ends) I try to deal with a minimum of moaning.
1. Is this a false start?
Sometimes what feels like going off track is really something else. Exhaustion, boredom, burnout, lack of needed information or skill or confidence, all these can manifest as the feeling I’ve gone astray. I have to stop and assess: Am I lost or do I just wish I was lost so I could make my way back to a path I already know?
If it’s the latter, if I’m secretly just trying to weasel out of a difficult moment and lying to myself about it, then I scold myself soundly and get back to work. (Not really. I have other, crueler techniques too but that’s not this post.) If I have legitimately gotten lost…
2. Ditch it and do something else.
There’s a school of thought that says finish what you start. And pathological non-finishers should recognize that weakness in themselves and correct it. But most often, I don’t believe in throwing good energy after wasted energy. I have projects that will never be finished and some of those give me a twinge of regret. But I had good reasons for letting those go, and I know I’ve put that time and effort to better use elsewhere.
3. Make truth out of false starts.
Usually I find a note of truth in every false start. When I’m writing the hot draft, I often start my story about three chapters too early. I have a lot of back story, info dumps, and unnecessary characterization. It’s painful to realize that the start is all wrong, but in those soon-to-be-cut words, there are pieces I can use: a hint of the character’s issue, a telling detail of physical description, whatever. Because I know to watch myself now, I try to NOT write those false starts and JUST keep the diamonds buried in the dust.
Sometimes I waffle back and forth between giving up too easily and clinging too long. I think it takes a lot of practice to find the balance, and each step of practice requires a start. So get started.
Which are you, a quitter or a clinger? Do you find that you tend toward the same trait in writing and in real life?