The Scrapping Loop
It's happened again, I've worked several days on a chapter full of riveting dialogue between my main character and her love interest. Lovely! Only...several paragraphs in, I've come to realize that they are not doing anything. Oops! Looks like I got a little carried away with practicing dialogue that I forgot to progress the story. Well no big deal, I'll just have an event take place and...uh oh I'm editing the exact same lines. How long have I been doing that? Ok, that's ok...I'll just rescue what I've written already and--I hate what I've tried to save. This isn't going how I wanted it to...
The above is an unfortunate loop I've gone through with my writing more often than I even want to acknowledge. Here I am on a great little progress train, and suddenly I have a couple talking about absolutely nothing while doing absolutely nothing. When this happens during my writing process, I quickly realize that I've accidentally stumbled into what I like to call: "The Scrapping Loop."
"The Scrapping Loop" is this painful little period that sometimes results in the literal crumpling of paper--followed by the exercise of poorly aimed projectiles flying towards a quickly filling waste-bin with very little writing progress done. The reason this period is agonizing is that it isn't quite writer's block because the words do come spilling out, but it is a hindrance all the same because the words that are spilling aren't often content that I the writer cannot use. After this little loop takes its hold, I find myself trying to rewrite the same few paragraphs again and again with none of what appears in my journal or on my word processor to be particularly useful.
The worst part of this loop is that if you're stuck in it long enough, you're either doomed becoming overly critical of one detail, or you'll find yourself with writer's block--which stunts your writing progress altogether. Not surprisingly, I've found myself in one of these loops today and clearly need to take my own advice and shake things up a little. By now, thankfully, I've come up with a few different tricks and procedures to help get out of this mischievous little cycle.
1) Come up with a new plan
When I was in college, one of my professors gave me some advice that's really stuck with me. "Write every chapter as if it's its own short story." Don't get me wrong, I'm terrible at writing short stories. I'm a novel kind of gal and condensing is not my strong point. That being said, the concept of each chapter being conclusive from its start mark to its end, makes perfect sense--even if a chapter is ending in a cliff hanger. There should be something we're working towards in the section itself, from its beginning to its end. Looking at the chapter that's landed me in this loop, I definitely see that I tripped at the starting line. I don't have a great start to this chapter because, even a paragraph or two in, nothing's really happening. I definitely see now that despite my attempts to expand and make the chapter more interesting, I don't have any focus. The way I see it, that's the first aspect of this chapter I'll need to fix. A lack of focus and no goal makes for a chapter that is going to give me way too much trouble.
2) Time Skip
Time skips help in a tight spot, especially from chapter to chapter. This is yet another aspect of this chapter that could do with a good time skip. What I'm working on starts immediately after the end of the previous chapter. During the last chapter, some pretty emotional confrontation occurred. I'm pretty happy with this scene, but with the next chapter, I'm struggling. I suppose my original thinking was, I needed to further explore the previous moment by having the next chapter immediately following. Now I'm starting to regret this decision because 1-I really need to move on and continue establishing plot devices that have yet to meet the page and 2-if I don't utilize a time skip and move on, this is going to result in a chapter of much shorter length than I'd like. I'll go more into this with the next point because this issue bleeds directly into the next, but, I'm bored. I said it. I'm bored with what's going on at the very start of this chapter. We've already established I lack in focus and a goal for this chapter, but I'm also coming to realize that I'm not very interested in what is happening right now. If I, the author, am saying this, how am I going to expect my readers to be interested either?
3) Be Honest With Yourself
More on my being bored with my own chapter. At this point in my writing, I've learned to be brutally honest with myself. I have my critique group and my high school years spent on Fanfiction.net to thank for this. Thanks to both of these, I'm too motivated to make my writing the best possible version of itself it can be to get my feelings hurt. So with this chapter, I'm struggling with, I'm not a fan. I'm bored because it's unfocused and lacking in a goal and I am bored of my own characters just hanging out. I need them to do something, and I need to stop hesitating when it comes to moving the plot along. Here's a piece of advice I really want to impart to any writer who needs to hear it: be honest with yourself. Please be as honest as you can, because nothing you do will be perfect. Nothing I do will be perfect. Not the first time, not the fifteenth time. Make it the best version of itself in the long run, and in the short run, make it not boring.
4) Start Over
Here's the piece of advice that makes both myself and any other writer I'm speaking to cringe. For that reason, I usually keep this one as a last-resort move if all else has failed. It isn't to say the content you've written down was a complete waste of time. On the contrary, if you've come to this point of busting your way out of the cycle with all other options exhausted--all this truly means is you've gotten the excess words out of your system and know you know precisely what you don't need when you start this over. In my particular case, I'm rewriting this chapter. Regardless of what I've listed before, I know I need to redo this chapter. I have to be honest with myself just as much as you need to be when it comes to your writing. I know why I made a mistake I did with this chapter, I'm world building and everything I've written down so far is honestly more contemplative wisdom that's directed more for the author than the reader. That's something I've learned about myself as a writer, sometimes I am just writing down what my mind is trying to work through when understanding my characters, the world, the plot, etc. Can any of this content be used? Absolutely and it will be...just not the way it currently appears on the page.
So, as of right now, I just need to "somewhat scrap" what I have and try again. I have good content here, but it's time to stop writing contemplatively and get back to work on moving along this book. It'll take some extra work with my overly critical mind running rampant, but thankfully I now know what's my next step.