Monday, November 5, 2012

Worthwhile Distractions

The irony doesn't pass me by that the current WIP may have started as a distraction. Yes, it  started out as an usurper of the star of the show, irrisistable as a new and shiny discovery before it too developed growing pains...or maybe sprained an ankle!  And there are plenty of other worthwhile distractions waiting in the wings.

I thought about this a lot while reading Donna Cummings' wonderful blog post "The Lure of the Other WIP."  I can relate and I love to hear how other writers manage to nurture the current WIP to completion while also figuring out what to do with incoming new ideas.

To me, it can feel like a powerful force like natural selection is at work to favor the new idea, and it's rather awe inspiring to think that every finished story has a writer who made the commitment to stick with the WIP, no matter whatSome do it with one WIP at a time, start to finish, while others let the new ideas develop into multiple WIPs and work on them simultaneously.

Which way is the right way?  Or the more realistic question may be, haven't I learned by now not to ask? This is one of those writing process questions with multiple answers.  Every writer will answer differently.  Heck, for many writers, myself included, the method changes from story to story.  The options are wide open.  

But if there is so much leeway for choice, then where does the guilt come from when distractions are followed?  That's what I'd like to know!  I can't help thinking we must have an ingrained sense of what think we should be doing that trumps the options. Somewhere along the way we get a "right way" stuck in our heads.  I'd really like to be convinced there are worthwhile distractions. 

So, just for "fun" (you probably have a different idea of fun!), I imagined recreating this origin of the "right way" thinking with a "diabolical" multiple choice question.  In case it's been a while since you've had the experience, multiple choice can be tricky and deceptively easy.  With an essay you have the opportunity to make an argument, but with multiple choice, you must choose the best answer from the available choices. 

So, the question is, when writing a story, the best process is:

A) work on one story at a time, start to finish,
B) work on multiple WIPs simultaneously,
C) both A and B are correct, or
D) mostly, "A," but switch to "B" on months with a full moon.
This question presumes there is a right answer, but you may ask, who says?  Well, that's part of the diabolical business.  It may seem like an opinion question.  Or maybe the right answer is  that the majority rules.  In that case, some thought goes toward how the majority chooses and whether this influences your choice. I could also add "all of the above" or "none of the above" to muddy the waters.  But the waters are muddy enough.

If I HAD to choose which way I think is BEST from the choices given, I'd pick  A) one story at a time, start to finish.  But I would hesitate a long time over choosing "C" (both) and second-guess myself wondering if this were a trick question.  It could be "both," but maybe that's "just me."  Would that be considered "best?" (Here's the thinking of what the professor or the majority might think.)  And "D" is quickly eliminated as just silly so that can't be right!...but you know, come to think of it, this one does have some appealing wiggle room...
But no, I'd pick A.  It seems closest to the "best" answer and what I REALLY do isn't being asked.  (That will be my little secret.)  So my best guess is that A is correct, and the other options probably have a higher risk of being wrong.  Logically, the existing string of half-finished projects can be considered proof of the risk!  (So yes, B is what I'm actually practicing!)

The right answer, of course, is...

Sorry, but I lost the answer key.  *grin*

Whichever one you chose is probably the one you think you "should" be doing.  And there is the origin of a guilty conscience.  We kind of know or have an idea of what is the "best answer"... and often do something else anyway.  (Personally, I'm pretty sure I convinced myself it was "A.")

I do respect the logic of the "best answer."  I've worked out why it makes sense.  So when I "stray" and feel guilty it's because I feel like I've moved too far from the best answer.  Never mind that it's not exactly MY best answer.

I probably lost you a while back, right? *grin*  Really, all I'm getting at is a compromise.  Between what you may ask?  Well, maybe think of it as between "who."  (Or is that whom?)  Anyway, let's say we identify the "best answer" as the hero.  Consequently, we may have vilified the other options.  And wouldn't you know it, this somehow doesn't lessen their appeal.  Well, we all know how appealing it is to write the villain!  There's a sense of freedom to explore with the villain.


I also like to think the hero also needs the villain.  The hero will benefit from the challenges the villain provides.  However, the hero will also demand to be the "last man standing" for THIS story.  Next time, the villain may step into the hero's shoes.

Acknowledgement that there are potentially  good reasons for the hero/best answer and all the vilified options to mix and mingle is the compromise.  If I stray to another story, there is likely a benefit to the original story.

For example, as pointed out by a writer friend (you know who you are!), writing in another story can lead to a sense of competition for the story left behind.  There is probably little likelihood you'll never return because the original story will draw you back.

Or maybe a new perspective is needed.   I remember once when I stalled out writing a love scene for my characters it helped to shift to a different story and write a love scene for a different set of characters. I guess maybe practice with less pressure to be perfect?  Sounds a little odd, I know!  Later, I did find it easier to go back to the original characters. 

Or maybe the connection between the old and the new is in the form a sequel. Your instincts are telling you to work on the story from a different angle as a way to further develop information common to more than one story
There are many worthwhile distractions from the WIP.  Some we follow and some we resist.  But if we respect our choices, whether or not they are in line with what we believe is the best answer, maybe we can trust our instincts just a little more. 

Are you convinced there are worthwile distractions to the WIP?  Can you think of other worthwhile distractions from the WIP? 

2 comments:

  1. Oooh, this is awesome! I love how you bring up all kinds of options, and travel down the various roads that I would leave unexplored. :) I'm not sure which part to comment on first.

    I'll start with the guilt. Because that IS intriguing, the source of that. There is always that "should" element driving us, or driving us away. LOL It took me forever to learn that it was okay to be a pantser, probably because nobody had devised a name for it, because everyone advocated being a plotter. And I was impossible at it, which I thought meant I was impossible as a writer!

    Once I ditched that notion, you'd think I would have also ditched the other forms of guilt. Not so! Because "prevailing wisdom" also advocates sticking with one manuscript at a time -- I guess so you aren't tempted to completely abandon things. But I suspect those of us who are pantsers NEED to have those multiple projects -- otherwise it feels like PLOTTING. LOL Which we already know doesn't work for our personalities.

    I also completely agree with your point about practicing with another set of characters so there isn't a need to be perfect. It does let you feel freer and the writing flows better in that mode.

    I'm not entirely sure we'd like writing as much if it were too structured and rule-bound. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier if it would work the same way every time, with each book, but it might lose its appeal too.

    Great post! I love seeing how your mind works. :)


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    Replies
    1. Donna, I think "prevailing wisdom" is a phrase I was looking for or thinking about when I wrote this...but it just didn't get out! LOL But that is exactly what I think is tied to a lot of guilty feelings. It's hard to feel comfortable cutting the ties to "prevailing wisdom" and trust we can do something different.

      I'm also trying to embrace my "inner pantser" and I think I'm getting there...or I will give it more devotion once I graduate from college! The distractions outside of writing are another piece of the process of course. LOL

      I'm thrilled you liked this post!

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