Monday, February 4, 2013

Bodybuilding as a Lesson in Writing

Any good trainer will tell you that you have to take breaks from lifting.  When you lift weights to build muscle, you are tearing the muscle fibers.  In order to make those muscles grow, they have to repair themselves, so they need a day off.  Imagine my surprise when I found writing to be the same.

A few months ago, I was feeling a bit frantic about the state of my novel, Postcards from the Desert.  I had been through about three drafts, each one seeing some minor changes or clarifications, but the plot structure stayed pretty much the same. Same story, same beginning point and same ending point.  By the last draft, the theme was starting to reveal itself in a way I hadn't really envisioned when I set out to write it.

My beta readers all came back with some great comments, but something was wrong.  Something didn't seem to fit right.  I expressed my frustrations to some writer friends of mine and one suggested I put it away for a month or so and then come back to it. Begrudgingly, I followed her advice.

I put it aside for three months, only occasionally looking it over to see if anything seemed more clear.  About a month ago, I decided some major characters had to go because it wasn't really their story.  Then I decided to change the structure and start at a different place in the story.  I'd tell some of the important elements in flashbacks. I started writing, but I was looking at both versions side by side and trying to use as much of the original as I could. But then I hit a wall again.  It still wasn't right.

Last week I decided to try something.  I decided to open with a scene that was three quarters into the first draft. It was just an experiment.  I wanted to see what I could do with it.  Imagine my surprise when it took off.  Five days and 7000 words later, I've found the story again.  It's a different flow.  Some of the characters are missing. Details have changed. Motivations are more clear. The stakes are higher. Settings have changed, but the skeleton of the story is the same.

It feels like a new novel to me, but I know the characters better than I ever did and they're leading the way.

We always hear that writers write, but I have to say some of the best lessons about writing come from the resting.  I had to get out of the way.

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