Time to Regroup

Like Wendy, John, and Sandra, I was at Rainforest Writer’s Retreat last week, too. I went with the purpose of working on my first novel, a beast I’ve been wrestling with since last year. I’d done all the necessary elevator pitches, outlines, synopses, and so forth, and had over 22k words written, so I figured with 3 solid days of writing I’d be golden. I did break the 30k word mark, but not without realizing I was on a different road than when I had started.

Time to regroup.

(Realizing this in the middle of a retreat where people are pumping out incredible word counts and sailing along on their novels is a bit dismaying to say the least. If this happens to you, don’t panic. Take a walk. Come back. You’re there to work, and word count is just one way of working. Breathe.)

So here’s what I’ve spent the last week doing to pull myself out of the mud. My approach may not work for everyone. It may not even work for me next time!

1) Revisit the synopsis. I needed to take a step back from my story and see where it had gone off the rails. The main culprit this time was plenty of “plot” and not enough character motivation. I was writing my characters through the outline regardless of whether they’d actually go there/do that/say that. Sometimes this is necessary work just to get something down on the page. The process of discovering the story this way can be fun, too. But when you run out of road, it’s a lot less fun.

So I rewrote my synopsis for Act I and Act II (and a chunk of Act III, too) utilizing what I’d learned from writing that 30k. If there were changes to the story thus far, I noted them here. With this synopsis, I tried mostly to focus on what was motivating my characters, and not necessarily the overall plot. I found that by doing so, however, their motivations began to feed very nicely into that metaplot — which is what I wanted all along.

2) Talk it out with a trusted friend(s). I don’t know about you, but most of the time I only like talking about my book in the vaguest terms while I’m working on it. Talking can take the place of writing if you’re not careful, the enthusiasm expended on the storytelling in conversation. Employ this strategy with care.

But sometimes it pays to have a sounding board, a trusted friend with whom you can describe your characters and basic plot beats. Be sure to select this/these friend(s) carefully — it probably helps if they are a writer (or at least a critical reader). You don’t have to discuss the whole book either, just a few key points. Like with any critique, you won’t use everything, but there may be a few nuggets that re-fire your imagination where you’re stuck. In this conversation, I was surprised to find I hadn’t deviated from the heart of the story as much as I’d feared. That’s a very helpful thing to learn. Thanks, friends.

3) Don’t Rewrite. Don’t Rewrite. Don’t Rewrite! The 30k I’ve already written is flawed, full of inconsistencies, third-grade writing, and will be burned in a ritual pyre when the book is finished. But I’m going to leave it alone right now, because the best way to kill momentum is to start over.

That 30k is valuable building-block stuff, and it too sprang from the original ideas that set the novel in motion. My new synopsis synthesizes the old stuff and the new stuff and will suffice to satisfy any rewriting urges I have. I know if I were to go back and rewrite that opening chapter now, I’d be tempted to rewrite those other early chapters too. That’s what revision is for! I need to finish this sucker first.

(I should out myself right now as a writer who loves to revise. New words can be fun, but I see them as a necessary first pass, a thumbnail sketch, to borrow a term from the art and animation world.)

So even if you think everything you’ve written so far is not fit to line a bird cage, don’t rewrite. Not yet, at least. Keep skipping, trudging, crawling, running forward. The momentum beast is chasing you and he’s very hungry. When you get to the end of the novel, you can club him on the nose with it.


So armed with a new roadmap, no a revised itinerary, I’m setting out on that dusty road once again. What about you?

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  1. Paul Weimer
    16/03/2012 at 7:34 am Permalink

    Thanks, Andy.
    I wonder if extensive plotters have an analogous problem when their outlining process takes a weird turn.  Less words written, but the same stresses and concerns…

  2. Andrew Penn Romine
    16/03/2012 at 8:36 am Permalink

    Thanks Paul.

    I’m not an extensive plotter/outliner by nature. I’m more like “dive in and see what happens,” but there are definitely limits to that approach (for me, at least) when I start to founder.

    Next time I start a new novel, when I do my rough outline, I’ll have a better idea of the pitfalls and hidden gotchas — I hope!

  3. Galen Dara
    16/03/2012 at 7:37 am Permalink

    congratulations on your discoveries at RF and on your word count!

    These are some great points for artists as well. I currently just had to do something similar with an illustration I was working on: “wait… what is the concept again?? How did I end up with THIS? Hold on there…” (And a friend was able to offer fresh eyes, and I don’t have to start from scratch. whew.) 

    (Also, I can’t wait to read your novel. YAY!! 🙂

  4. Andrew Penn Romine
    16/03/2012 at 8:34 am Permalink

    Thanks Galen! I think this regroup has been good for me. It’s refreshed my enthusiasm and readied me for another deep dive 🙂

  5. Adam Israel
    16/03/2012 at 9:52 am Permalink

    After last November, I stand at 28k words. That was my first serious novel attempt. After some distance, I’ve picked that back up. I spent the last two weeks or so revisiting my outline and seeing just how bad what I wrote was (and some of it is pretty bad).

    What I have now is a better idea of what I need to do — my roadmap is much clearer. I’ll resisting the urge to revise what I’ve already written unless absolutely necessary. 

    New words? I started adding ’em this morning. 

  6. Andrew Penn Romine
    16/03/2012 at 10:25 am Permalink

    Excellent news Adam! Keep us posted on your progress, and good luck!