There comes a time in the life of every story I write when I think that it is absolutely awful and I don’t know why anyone would ever want to read it. I had this over the past week with my current Camp Nanowrimo project.
When I first started to seriously write, this stage did me in every time. What was the point in continuing with a story that was so clearly already a failure? Obviously, the story was trite and used ideas and concepts that had been used over and over again. What could I possibly add?
What I have come to realize (for myself, since all writing advice or observations are inherently personal) is that I can’t listen to that voice. I have to keep writing. I have to ask myself what it is that I think is the problem.
Are there particular elements to the story that aren’t working? Sometimes there is a character that is behaving in a way that doesn’t work in the context of the specific story. Maybe their motivation doesn’t make logical sense. Maybe there are plot holes. If there are specific elements that are wrong in whatever way, I make adjustments to try and eliminate them.
Do I know where the story is going? I rarely know exactly how my story is going to end when I start. Part of me feels like a failure for writing this way, but I know that it’s just a style and there are plenty of successful writers who do the same thing. But even if I don’t know the specific ending, I do need to know the direction that it is going in. It’s hard to keep writing without that and that, in turn, leads to the sense that the story is just bad and going nowhere.
Is the story actually not working? Sometimes, I go through the various considerations and, at the end, determine that the story is actually not working at all. Most often what I realize in these cases is that I don’t have a clear idea of what the story is about. I have an idea or a character or maybe even both, but there is no story to hang them on. For me, this is usually in the context of a short story, as I am more rigorous in my planning with novels (so I typically abandon a non-working concept much earlier in the process). With some stories, I am able to work through this, but with others, I need to put them aside, at least for a while.
Most often, especially with novels, my problem lies with the first or second question. And those are the things I can work on. I can plug plot holes, figure out the direction my story is going, or add aspects to my characters. The key, for me at least, is to keep going. Writing is more than words on the page — it is thinking and note-taking and finding pictures of people who look like my characters, it is research and listening to other writers talk about their processes.
I don’t pretend that I know all the answers. In the depths of hating my current WIP, it can be difficult to remember the path out of that. But I do know that I need to remember to keep going.