Guest post from the always brilliant Kiersi Burkhart
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
This. This rule is it.
We writers are all slaves to ourselves—specifically, to our internal nag-bot. You know the one. She’s your best friend and your worst enemy. When you’ve written something and it just feels wrong, in a way you can’t explain? That’s her. When you leave your computer but can’t stop thinking about your manuscript—everything that you need to fix, everything you could add to it to solve your glitch—that’s her.
She’s your instinct. She can both help and hinder you. She’ll let you know when you’re off-track, but will also keep you stuck on problems you just can’t fix—not right now, anyway.
Remember this other rule on the list?
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
Again: it’s never wasted work to sort through scenarios and motivations. Sometimes we force our characters into actions and dialogue that are just not true to them; we can feel it as soon as we do. Even if you don’t know exactly why it just feels wrong, Grand Mistress Nag-bot will let you know there’s a problem that needs addressing.
The solution is rarely obvious. Like any form of higher problem solving, sometimes the best way to attack the glitch is to divert your mind; let it work on another problem for a while and send the nag-bot after another goose. (I know that this is hard to do. The nag-bot doesn’t like leaving a problem unsolved. Just remember she’s only a weird figment of your imagination I made up in this article and you can do whatever you want.)
Your brain doesn’t stop working on the problem just because you leave the keyboard. Brushing your teeth, watching TV, taking a walk with the dog—in the background your mind is still turning it over, examining it from different angles, taking in and interpreting and using everything you see or do or touch and how it relates to your problem.
Suddenly, inspiration will strike. In the middle of the night, in a movie theater, you never know when. Your answer will appear like a giant Mario brick filled with coins. And all that garbage you wrote? All those possible futures and mistaken identities you left behind? Even if those things never make it into your final manuscript (you’ll be surprised at just how much will, in some weird new form or another), you have them. You understand your world better, your characters, your story.
The best metaphor for writing I’ve seen is sculpting. Think about it like this: the story is what you have left when you scrape off the excess, form the shapes, and carve those beautiful little details. The story is your David.
It’s a masterpiece. Don’t be afraid of thinking on it for a while. Sometimes nag-bot needs a break.
Talynn Lynn, a writer, editorial intern for Entranced Publishing, and writing assistant extraordinaire,
Mary Pat, a writer, fellow teacher, and fantastic blogger,
Alex Yuschik, a writer, grad student, and also an intern to a literary agent,
and Regina Castillo, a dedicated reader, writer, and blogger.
As always, thanks for reading!