Do you ever wish you could go back to when you started writing and get it right from the start? I sure do! Of all the things I’ve put my mind to, writing has been the most fun–but also the most challenging. Along the way, I’ve made plenty of mistakes. The good news? I’m going to share with you what I’ve learned. Who knows–maybe you’ll be able to learn a thing or two from them, too.
1. Plotting actually helps.
I know, I know…here I venture into the territory of personal preference with writing. Some of us are plotters. Some of us are pantsers.
You’d think, with this heading, I’m naturally a plotter. You’d be wrong.
The fact is, there is nothing more thrilling for me to do than to sit down and let a story ooze out of my fingertips onto the awaiting keyboard. I love writing when inspired, when the thrill of the idea keeps me wanting to write all day and night. So, for most of my writing days, I happily “pantsed,” refusing to plot. But then…I learned to plot.
Despite loving writing when inspired, writing when I’m not inspired is necessary. Plotting helps me to know what I’m writing next and what to focus on. What’s more, one thing I learned a long time ago is that I may have a fun idea but that doesn’t mean I have a solid plot. Sometimes, I need to work out the kinks in what happens next and why. In raising the stakes and conflict. In providing a satisfying payout.
So I found a good compromise. I plot loosely, with an outline that has the major points of each chapter but allows flexibility for changes and creativity. After I’m done with my first draft, I go back and develop a more fully fleshed outline, which addresses how well each scene is working. The combination of loose and more traditional plotting allows me to write more effectively. Still need to be convinced that plotting is helpful? Read more: The Case for Plotters.
2. Show don’t tell isn’t quite accurate.
It’s the single most repeated piece of writing advice: “show don’t tell.” And you know what? It’s WRONG.
Okay, so maybe not completely wrong, but definitely not accurate. You see, for years, I tried to master this. I drove myself crazy attempting to eliminate anything that could be “telling.” I did extensive find/replace functions for filter words. I read book after book, article after article, trying to master this one part of writing craft.
Oh man, if I could have only known. When I started to send my writing off for editorial critiques, I kept getting back: “you’re missing emotion.”
In my haste to eliminate any telling, I didn’t realize I was also eliminating a lot of my character’s emotions. Emotions are incredibly vital to getting your readers to connect to your story. Emotions, however, can’t always just be shown. Sometimes we need to be told some of them. Here’s more on writing emotion: How to Write Emotional Scenes.
The art of emotional storytelling is a multi-layered process. It involves a combination of showing and telling. It also involves analyzing good literature to see how masters of writing do it. I encourage everyone to really dig into emotional story craft and learn the true balance of show and tell.
3. Know when to start over.
Remember how I mentioned how my fun ideas don’t always end up with the best plots? This was a lesson I learned the hard way. Just because the plots weren’t great, it didn’t stop me from finishing those fun manuscripts. But then, when diving into edits, I was forced to address poor plots.
There are few things as hard to fix after the fact as a bad plot. It involves a LOT of changes, a ton of cut-and-paste, and trying to fit things in to make the plot actually work. I recently described this to a friend as trying to put a puzzle together–except the pieces don’t fit. So you have to cut the pieces to get them to fit.
Some stories may be worth doing this for. But other stories? You have to know when to let go of.
If you find yourself trying to cut puzzle pieces that just won’t fit, you may want to consider scrapping your story and starting fresh. It doesn’t mean you have to start a new story. But you may have to keep just the bare bones of that difficult story.
No matter where you are in your writing journey, be sure that you will make mistakes. The most important thing you can do is learn from them and keep going! That will make you a better, stronger writer in the long-run.