Purposeful Writing

Like every author, I have my own personal demons when it comes to writing issues. 

I have typos I make constantly. The same ones, over and over, so practiced that I can’t do anything but make the same mistake again. I have words and phrases I overuse and seldom catch even when I’m looking for them. I have an inner voice that occasionally likes to try to override the voice of the character(s) I am actually writing (that 20 year old kid from Jersey should not sound like a 40-something year old theater/lit major.)

When it comes to writing scenes, I sometimes have trouble with purpose. I’m blogging about that today because I spent a large chunk of the end of last week and most of my weekend hammering at a scene, feeling like I was forcing every line, my word count stuck in quicksand. As a result, I have just spent most of my morning trying to pinpoint my dysfunction. Have I been blocked? Do I need more coffee? Do I need skip the scene for now or to put the project away for a while? Do I need wine?

Last night, putting it away and having wine was the answer, because given my frustration at that point, the only other option was to hit the delete key. You know you need a break when you consider scrapping a project at 35K.

It’s taken me four days to get halfway through one scene. That happens to me sometimes, but most of the time I can trace it back to my kids, my wife, my day job, my bank account, any number of tangible distractions. This one has been baffling me. After I finally got annoyed with it last night I resolved to sit with it his morning and at least make a plan because it isn’t something I want to put on a back burner. So I’ve been pondering the issues I’ve been having with the scene over my coffee and at one point I thought, “Okay, maybe this scene just doesn’t need to happen, what is its purpose again?”

What is its purpose?

I have a couple of author friends/mentors who are experienced, habitual plotters. They clued me in to a very simple structuring formula not too long ago, for getting from point A to point B with less stress. It’s nice to be able to look at an index card and know what’s coming next, yet also have the ability to rearrange the cards or change and add things as the front end of the book develops. I’ve been using the bones of this method because there are things I like about it that work for me. But honestly? I am more of a seat of the pants writer.

There are a couple challenges that come along with the freedom of writing that way. I love that my work is “character driven”; that I don’t always know exactly where a character is going to take a scene, or how we’re going to get to the end of that scene. Sometimes I finish a scene all geared up for the next one, but sometimes the edits that go along with that are spectacular and have to be dealt with before I can move on. Once in a while everything comes to a grinding halt, and then I have to unravel it and figure out why.

My trick? I think about the scene, and I try to sum up in one sentence what the scene is about. Why am I writing it? What information needs to be conveyed? What needs to happen?

What is the purpose of the scene?

And by the time I’ve forced myself to distill it down to just a few words, I’m usually able to get to the bottom of what needs to happen next. I have changed events, a character’s reaction to something, I’ve moved the setting, and occasionally I am even able to just go “aha!” and start writing again. But today’s dilemma?

I’ve been in the wrong head. POV is so important. “What is the purpose of this scene?” is followed very naturally by, “And who do I want to convey it?”

So yeah, I have some rewriting to do. In this case, I actually need to scrap everything but the dialogue and sequence of events. But it’s already working better in my head and I know exactly how to write it now.

Hopefully, that little bit of insight is helpful for you while you mull over your Monday.

Comments

  1. Aghhh… I feel your pain! A similar scene-assessment epiphany has led to me scrapping or re-assimilating entire subplots on the basis of perspective. The end result is much stronger indeed, but the path to get there is rather painful.