False Starts or New Beginnings? It's All in Your Attitude (Patty Blount)
“New beginnings” -- an appropriate theme for this time of year. We just set the clocks ahead, which is my favorite day – it means Spring is here! I love spring, when the planet undergoes rebirth and everything gets a fresh new start. Fresh new starts used to bother me. I thought having to restart a project indicated my failure. Redo. Do over. Go back to Start. It was a punishment; a clear indicator that I’d been unsuccessful.
But then, I changed my attitude. *laughs* I guess you could say I got a fresh new start on fresh new starts. It started with SEND. After an agent I’d queried suggested I rewrite the entire story as a YA, I nearly quit, too consumed by thoughts of ‘failure’ to see what was actually an opportunity. Eventually, fortunately, I did come to see the opportunity and rewrote the story, which later sold and debuted last summer. I haven’t forgotten that lesson. Today, while I still track word count progress, I’m less chained to the words I commit to screen or paper.
I’ve got this idea for a paranormal trilogy. It’s a project I’ve been mulling over for months now. I have about 100,000 words in a draft I won’t use because the POV is wrong. I have another 40,000 words in a second draft that I may or may not use – it depends. And I’ve got about 10,000 words in a third draft that I really like.
I think this may be The One.
This is my process. I’ve learned never to delete anything; I just move cut scenes to a new file in case I want to use them later. I’ve learned to trust that writing isn’t a race, it’s an endurance test. I’ve learned that a false start usually means I haven’t gotten to know my characters well enough to know what motivates them, what they want, or what they’re afraid of. Or it could mean I don’t yet know where the story is going. But I know this – without my false starts, I couldn’t have pinpointed the problems that led to new beginnings. Sometimes, I need to see it wrong so I can recognize it when it’s right.
I now give myself permission to write stuff I know I’ll probably never use. It’s a practice run, a dress rehearsal. When it’s on screen, I can sit back, squint at it, and nudge the stuff that’s out of place back into line or trim it altogether.
Another technique I use is to write in chunks. Scenes, chapters, set-pieces, etc. What you call them isn’t important; how you attack them is. I start new files because I’m one of those bizarre people who gets inspired by the blank page. I can’t wait to fill it up whether it’s a journal, a computer screen, or a legal pad. When I’m happy with it, I paste it into the main manuscript file or just use that file as the new main file from that date forward.
I’ve learned this isn’t concrete; it’s fiction. Fiction is fickle and moody and capricious and so am I, which is probably why I love writing it so much. I can shape the words, bend them, mold them, cut them. Nothing’s done until I say it’s done and even then, I can always start again.
It’s amazing how much a tiny attitude adjustment can help.