Sunday, July 24, 2011

Eating my peas

by: Joelle Charbonneau

President Obama made a statement this week that captured my attention. I’m not going to quote the statement, but the gist of it was that it was time for America to eat our peas. He was referring to the whole debt ceiling debacle and no I don’t plan on debating the merits of the politics behind it here. Needless to say, I am certain we all have our own political opinions and there are better forums to debate them. However, I bring up the statement because the words “eat our peas” and the idea that sometimes people have to put on their big kid pants and do things they don’t want to do got my attention.

Now, I personally like peas, especially raw ones right out of the garden, but I get the point. In fact, this week more than any other I really get the point. I’m been working on this manuscript for the past two months. It’s one that is out of my comfort zone, but I have pushed myself to write it and more important I’ve pushed myself to really set goals for writing it. I’m aware that I have several books under contract that need to be written and I want to make sure that I can hit my writing goals in order to meet those contractual obligations.

Anyway, last Monday I started writing the final section of the book. YAY! I was tearing along typing lots of words and late on Monday night my gut told me something was off. But I wasn’t ready to listen. I chugged along on Tuesday and logged even more words. Wednesday same story. I watched the page count and word count rise and could feel myself getting closer and closer to THE END.

Only, it felt wrong.

Have you ever had that experience? Where the story just didn’t click for you? Up until that point everything was firing on all cylinders. Yes, there are things that I need to clean up in the editing phase, but the foundation and the main character and plot points were all clicking. And then they weren’t.

Now, the next part should be a no brainer. Just go back to where the story stopped clicking and start over. My mind told me that is what I needed to do, but deleting the 6,600 words that I’d written since that point felt like failure. Worse yet, it put me behind on my goals. So I spent several hours trying to figure out how to fix those words. To no avail. After much agonizing, I finally decided it was time to eat my peas, delete the crap and get back to telling the story the way it needed to be told.

Sometimes as writers we are so concerned with page count and word count and all the measures of a story reaching completion that we shove aside our concerns about the story until after the story has been told. We wait until the editing phase to fix the problems. Often that shoving to the side is a good thing otherwise we might pick the details apart so much that we never get to THE END. However, this week has taught me that a writer has to listen to their gut when it tells them the story has gone off the rails. That’s the time you do the grown up writer thing, eat your peas, and get the story back on track no matter how much you might hate to do it.


Sarah Tokeley said...

I totally agree. Not listening to my gut meant rewriting five chapters. I should have just eaten the damn peas when I first saw them on the plate :)

Dave White said...

The book I'm revising now has been a whole plate of peas. I wrote 160 pages and was able to save 90 while writing my first draft. Then I finished the first draft and am realizing ALL the characters don't work real well. I think I've got an idea who they are but it basically means the entire bool needs to be re-written. Peas, peas and more peas.

Keri Neal said...

Its not true! It's not its not its not! Ok so the toddler in me would rather feed my peas to the dog or hide them under my plate. But alas, you are right. Being responsible sucks ;). Thanks for this post, Joelle. You always help me stay grounded.

Thea Harrison said...

Another difficult part of listening to your gut, at least for me, is having the courage to tell a story the way I feel it ought to be told despite a few different reactions from initial readers. That one is very tricky, I think--initial readers have valuable viewpoints, and it's important to not dismiss their opinions. Critical feedback is extremely valuable, and I know I am not infallible. Balancing that with honoring one's vision of a story can be a tricky business.

Dana King said...

Yet another reason why I'm leery of goals that could become like deadlines to me. I have a benefit published writers don't have--no deadlines--but that makes it a lot easier to go back and dig up the track that has been liad over the past few weeks. I can adjust the schedule/milestone.