I am a quintessential older sister. I LOVE giving advice. Seriously, I do. When I was younger, I would fantasize about having an advice column in the newspaper like Dear Abby. It was a lovely fantasy where everyone wanted to hear what I had to say and couldn’t wait to tell everyone else about how clever I was in helping them solve their problems. AND I got paid for it! *sigh*
Well, I may not be all that clever at helping you deal with cranky neighbors or nosey in-laws, but I love helping young writers tackle their creative writing problems. This week I got a beautiful letter from a young fan in South Dakota.
“I’ve been trying to write books for a while now but I keep running into a problem. I will have a few pages of the book done and they’ll look great, but when I stop typing for any reason my mind keeps the story going. So I will only have started the book two days ago but I’ll already have made up in my mind too far in the future. So then I will start a new story in my head the old one not forgotten but, not on my mind all the time. The new character having all the attention. And the book will be stopped. So my question is, do you have this problem? If so how do you deal with it?”
The answer: YES! I had this problem for years before I finished my first book. For me, it was a problem of planning. I was taught in school to outline your writing before you begin. So, when I had an awesome story idea, I would daydream about it for awhile until I decided it was good enough to write. Then, I would sit down and outline the entire story, start to finish. Then…I was done with it. I could NOT make myself write that story no matter how hard I tried.
This went on for ages until one day I woke up with the most incredible dream. You know the kind of dream that makes you want to cry because you can’t just go back to sleep and finish it? I couldn’t stop thinking about it! How did those two people get into that situation? How on earth were they going to get out of it? Who was the mysterious villain that was after them?
I thought about it while I got dressed. I thought about it while I poured my coffee. I thought about while I drove kids to school. I thought about it while I did dishes. And then finally, I took out a notebook and started writing just to get it out of my head. But I kept writing and three hours later I was mad when I had to stop. I wanted to know what happened! That fall my brother challenged me to write my first book for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I knew exactly what story I wanted to write. I just had to see how it ended! 30 days later I had my answer…and my first book, A Light in the Darkness. That’s when I realized the reason I was stuck after plotting out entire books…boredom. I wanted to write to see how the story ended. If I sat down and plotted out every detail then the thrill was gone, it wasn’t any fun to keep writing after I knew how it ended.
So, I write like a reader. If there is mystery in a book of mine, it was a mystery to me, too. I honestly didn’t know who the bad guy was in The Light Series until book two. NO JOKE! Once I figured it out, I was able to go back and put his name into the first book, but it was a complete shock, I swear. I remember the first time two characters kissed it was the same way. “What are you doing?!” It’s a serious rush when your story takes on a life of its own.
If you’re having trouble staying focused, maybe try writing just to see how the story ends. If another idea pops up while you’re working, jot it down in a notebook or a computer file labeled Novel Ideas and keep going. Don’t get too wrapped up in the new idea. Just dump the details so you can start with them later and keep going. I have more book ideas piled up than I could ever write and they are really fun to look through when I’m ready to start a new project. But, learning to focus on the story at hand is powerful if you’re ever going to finish one. Why don’t you join me this year for NaNoWriMo? At the end you’ll have your very first book! It’ll be a rough draft, but still, I can’t tell you how awesome it feels to type THE END on your very first book. (Who am I kidding? It never stops feeling awesome!)
Anyone want to join us? National Novel Writing Month is coming soon! Let’s write and find out how the story ends together. I’ll be hosting a write-along all month long in November, so get your ideas ready. It’s going to be fun!