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How to get beyond initial idea and keep writing

(22 Posts)
Orangesandbananas Fri 25-Oct-19 16:49:59

I am having a horrible time trying to write. I did the CBC 'starting to write a novel' course at the start of the year. Came up with an idea for novel on that course, very rough and ready. By the end of the course I had a first chapter I was pleased with and a (very) loose synopsis.

At the end of the course I got feedback and then worked on the synopsis / general idea - and completely changed my main character and story. I then got stuck for ages trying to write this story but just couldn't - it all came out flat and crap.

I then paid a fortune to meet a writing mentor who read both my versions of my idea / synopsis and various scenes from both versions. He liked my original one and was very encouraging.

But I saw a big flaw in my main character's goal - couldn't make it work - so decided to take a break.

I'm now trying to write short stories but again am not getting very far. I've got various ideas, some short bits of writing from prompts, a short story that started out well but fizzled out to nothing.

I feel like I can write well when I set off but then have no idea how to keep what I've started going - to keep writing basically, once the beginning bit is over. I'm like a firework - all 'poof' and then I'm all damp and fizzled out on the ground.

How do you KEEP writing? When you write are you just kind of freewriting and seeing where it's going (even after you've had the initial idea) or do you sit and plan where it's going (even for a short story)? How do you keep going even if you now think your idea is shit (this happens to me EVERY time)?

KaliforniaDreamz Fri 25-Oct-19 16:52:05

I am exactly the same as you.
I have asked wirter friends and sadly they say just sit and write. everyday. utter rubbish will come out but eventually you will start to find your muscle rather than just using your original inspo. HTH.

Nuffaluff Fri 25-Oct-19 17:28:21

I’m doing a creative writing course at my local adult education centre. I’m writing a novel. I’ve binned 50,000 words - that was my first draft - but now I’m getting somewhere. My writing is getting much better. I can see the mistakes in it now. It used to go ‘flat’ like you describe, but it’s punchier and more entertaining and it’s going in some kind of direction.
I think my course is good because my teacher gives us interesting ideas for exercises and we give each other feedback. Also it’s not too expensive and it’s fun.
I’ve got a massive notebook full of notes I’ve made about the characters, plot ideas, sketches/plans for scenes, etc. I still think I need to do more work on that. They say ‘novel is character’. Perhaps you would benefit from spending more time writing around your characters and ideas before actually writing your novel.
Ultimately writing is hard. It’s so so hard to get right but that’s why I love it. If it was easy would it be worth doing?

Nuffaluff Fri 25-Oct-19 17:29:53

Another thing I’m doing is I’m aiming for max 500 words per day. Writing quickly, just getting it down on paper, just doesn’t work for me because I end up just writing shit.

KaliforniaDreamz Fri 25-Oct-19 20:07:39

The idea to character develop is a good one.

Areyoubeingservedhen Fri 25-Oct-19 20:08:55

Is there a peer sharing group on MN or anywhere else?

HollowTalk Fri 25-Oct-19 20:12:11

OP, I'm a published author. If you'd like to send me your original outline over the weekend with the problem that you think it has, I'd be more than happy to have a look at it. Sometimes another pair of eyes can help. Just PM me if this would be helpful. I'm going out tonight but can look at it tomorrow.

LouisaMayAlcott Fri 25-Oct-19 21:14:15

I have a book called Take Off Your Pants and it gives you an outline which I've found really useful to build up before I start writing. Also the Save the Cat books are good. They make you realise the supporting cast that the book needs.

TrafalgarSquare Fri 25-Oct-19 21:35:15

I think you're getting feedback too soon, it can make your writing self conscious. I think you need to finish something on your own. It may not be bestseller material but it's the best way to learn how to improve. Write through the self doubt. I agree with Kalifornia's friends!

Witchend Fri 25-Oct-19 23:28:29

Try writing for NaNoWriMo

You're trying to write 50k words in November. First time I did it, I literally planned each chapter during the day and wrote it in the evening. It's probably rubbish, but I did finish the story, and it was great fun. I'm doing it again this year, and have more idea, but not a full plan.

Peggywoolley Fri 25-Oct-19 23:34:09

Following - I’m the same!

Brackish Sat 26-Oct-19 00:26:42

I agree you’re getting feedback too much and too early — I think it can turn you both insecure (‘Is this any good? Had I better ask someone?’) and stuck on a cycle of looking for external reassurance which stops you just getting ahead on your novel.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s a remedy. It’s like the bit after a few minutes of a run before you’ve kicked into gear and the endorphins start where all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of another until it gets easier.

What is it that makes you able to write at the beginning?

Orangesandbananas Sat 26-Oct-19 15:00:54

Thanks for the replies, v interesting to hear various points of view and suggestions.

@HollowTalk that is a very very kind offer! I'll have a ponder over that one - because I do actually wonder whether TrafalgarSquare and Brackish are right and I'm getting feedback too early. Yet I am still stuck on something so maybe it'd help to talk it through with someone. I'll come back to you on that hope that's ok.

I've got the Save the Cat book - I found it useful to make a plan for my novel, but this was for version 2 of it which I then couldn't write (and mentor advised me to go back to version 1). Interestingly the mentor disagreed with Save the Cat and felt that planning everything out up ahead would take away some of the magic, if you already knew the story before writing it you'd be bored of it. He's published 8 novels.

I suppose different people have different methods and I need to work out what mine are.

I feel a bit more positive today, I've dug out a recently written short story that I hate and had a good think about how I could perhaps make it better.

I probably have a lot of writerly issues going on:
- Not trusting myself to write something, I don't really believe in my ability to do it (because I haven't so far been able to so am losing confidence)
- Need to improve my prose writing skills (big gap between ideas in brain and reality of what is on the page)
- Get blocked by stressing over what the 'right' (ie good) way to develop a story is... so I set off, write something, it'll have a spark of interestingness in it but then I think of an idea to continue it but dismiss it because I think it's bad / boring / generic / not good enough in some way.

I think I can start because when I start out it's all new and fun, or written from a prompt as a bit of fun, it's more playful. The minute it's supposed to be a 'proper' story or novel... I can't seem to write any more, I'm too consumed with anxiety over whether the idea I'm about to spend time on is working or I think of lots of reasons it won't work or that it's boring or generic etc or I simply get stuck and don't know how to progress the story.

Brackish Sat 26-Oct-19 15:15:25

Have a look at these, OP. Both from Emma Darwin’s excellent blog.

emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2014/01/the-anti-writing-demon-and-the-must-write-demon.html

emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2011/07/the-inner-calvinist-and-the-petrol-pump.html

You might also want to think about the fact that it doesn’t matter that much how good your first draft is. It’s ok if it’s crap — you’ve got something you can evaluate, alter, revise. My first novel is about to go out to editors, and I’m no longer sure how many versions of it there have been. One thing I do know is that there isn’t a single sentence from the first version in the MS going out on submission now.

Orangesandbananas Sat 26-Oct-19 16:53:27

Thanks Brackish, those articles are very helpful.

Wow to the fact that your first novel is about to go out - well done, congrats for getting to that stage. It's interesting (and scary) to know that there's nothing from your first MS in your latest draft.

Good luck with editors, do you already have someone interested or are you sending out to a few different ones and hoping someone bites?

CakeRage Sat 26-Oct-19 18:32:48

Allow your first draft to be shit. That was the key, for me.

Get it all down and then go back and fix it. I never let anyone read my first draft, god. It’s the worst!

Brackish Sat 26-Oct-19 20:03:35

I’ll tell you one thing that helped me — I was looking at the archive of a very famous writer a few years ago (advising a university on whether to buy it), and her first drafts were properly crap, including things that became justifiably famous novels. I found that very consoling!

Thank you for the good wishes. I am bowing entirely to my agent’s idea of which editors might be a good fit. She was just waiting for Frankfurt to be over...

KaliforniaDreamz Mon 28-Oct-19 14:56:32

Does anyone just start writing and end up with a story or do you all know where you are going?

themental Mon 28-Oct-19 17:21:50

@KaliforniaDreamz I never know where I'm going when I start. I "write into the dark". One clean draft, no rewrites. If something interesting happens, I go back and set it up to make it look like I planned it all along. It works for me.

I have tried outlining and found it so so boring.

LouisaMayAlcott Mon 28-Oct-19 18:00:32

Whereas I have a full plan and outline. I might go off-piste if I have a lightbulb moment but I like to know where I'm going. Plotter v pantster I imagine there will be every variety of answer to your question we all like to write differently!

KindOranges Mon 28-Oct-19 19:38:48

For me, if you're OK with significant structural rewriting -- I don't mean just the ordinary editing of yourself, I mean essentially the kind of bigtime reinventing of the entire novel you would have to do if you discover in the final fifth that someone else entirely did the murder/that your main character would work better if she were a male escort rather than a suburban housewife/ that it should all take place a century ago in an opium den rather than in a Huddersfield pub in 2019, then writing blind is fine, but otherwise, I think some planning is key.

KaliforniaDreamz Wed 06-Nov-19 15:47:14

Thank you

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