Writing can be like unruly children. Just when you think they're ready to grow up and do you proud, they throw fits, stop cooperating, and make you wonder why you wanted to have kids in the first place.
So you have a book or two (or three or four) under your belt. You have your writing process down pat. You’ve mastered the art of fiction and the science of winning over audiences. Through a long, painstaking process of trial and error, you’ve devised a formula for success and it works every time.
And then it doesn’t.
The new work in progress doesn’t quite gell. After writing twenty thousand words, you realize you don’t know the characters well enough to know what they want. The complicated back story fascinates you more than what they are doing now. Your beta readers complain that this story reads just like your last, or it reads like an outline. Or both.
You, my writer friend, are experiencing growing pains.
Or, to be more precise, your writing is.
Writing, like a child, grows in fits and starts. It constantly tests its boundaries. It seems happy one minute and hysterical the next. It is no longer pacified by the routine that worked last year. And, like any beleaguered parent, you can’t understand what to do with your six-year-old who has overnight turned 15.
Growing pains are uncomfortable and scary for writers. They force us out of our comfort zones and into unknown territory. They cause us to question everything we do and everything we’ve done.
They may even force us to reevaluate why we wanted to be writers in the first place. Where’s that untold wealth and fame we’re supposed to get? Why isn’t writing getting easier?
Does parenting ever get easier?
Yet growing pains can be positive and necessary for writers. They could be a way for our subconscious minds to point out things to us we don’t want to face. Maybe they are calling attention to areas in our writing or our lives (which often are intertwined) that need more attention. Maybe they're trying to tell us we’ve crossed one bridge and it’s time to do something new.
While we try to figure out what our unruly writing-child is telling us, here are three tips for dealing with growing pains:
- Take a break. Stepping away from writing for awhile may be the best thing. We all need a time out to gain a new perspective. The catch, though, is that you must come back to writing at some point. Giving yourself a vacation from writing may be all you need to come back to it fresh.
- Write something else. If you’ve worked hard at building your brand in a specific genre or with a certain cast of characters, there’s a tendency to think that’s all you can or should write. But forcing yourself to write the same kind of stories over and over is like forcing your kids to eat only meat. Without veggies, fruit, bread, and desert, they will become surly, lose focus, and unhealthy. Writing something else helps you grow as a writer and bring something new back to your main project.
- Let your story be what it has to be and not what you think it should. See last week’s post for more of this.
Whatever you do, don’t give up.
How do you deal with your writing’s growing pains? Share your tips below.