writing tip

3 Secret Weapons for When Your Plot Hates You

Writing LUNAV took me about three years, give or take: that time frame includes at least five full rewrites. 

Writing LOST BOY, FOUND BOY -- which is literally a fourth the length of LUNAV -- took me a full year, most of which was time during which it just sat, partially done, in my notebook, antagonizing me.

The plot for LOST BOY, FOUND BOY hated my guts. Hardcore.

With LUNAV, I wrote chaotically. I wrote scene after disconnected scene, and then -- hence all the rewriting -- figured out what shape my plot wanted to take and wove them together.

With LOST BOY, scenes wouldn't come to me. I knew where I wanted to go, plotwise. I knew the elements I wanted to include. I knew what Peter's main emotional journey was going to be, I knew the subplots. I knew how the lesbians were going to fall in love. I knew everything about the damn thing.

Except I couldn't, for the life of me, write it.

Because the plot hated my guts.

But I had secret weapons. Granted, it took me a year to figure them out, but when I did? 

Score one for Jenn, score zero for that pesky plot.

What were my secret weapons, you might ask? Read on, dear reader. Read on.

1. Call a Truce (aka, take a break)

As writers, we often feel like we've failed when we take a break from our characters, our worlds. We feel like we're letting someone -- or the entire world -- down. We feel like not writing means we're not worth it as people.

But you are -- we are -- worth it, even when we're not writing, I promise.

Given that we often feel those things, though, it's tempting -- and I tried to do this so many times -- to say "oh look, I gave it a break: I didn't think about or look at my draft all weekend." And good try, but... no.

Gotta be longer than that. 

To really cleanse our minds, we've gotta turn to different projects: and sometimes, those projects are best not being writing at all. For me, it's the gym (it's always the gym, for me). It's also fan fiction (lots and lots of fan fiction).

I put LOST BOY down for, oh... eight months? I had no choice. I kept trying to force it, and the more I tried, the worse it got. 

I only came back to it when...

2. Talk it Out (with a reader, not a writer)

For me, a friend who's not a writer was actually most helpful. That's not a knock on my wonderful writer friends! It's just... the friend who isn't a writer listened to me moaning about LOST BOY, and the fix was pretty immediate.

She tilted her head and pursed her lips and said the most obvious thing in the world: obvious to her as a potential reader, not as a fellow writer empathizing with my pain about pacing and point of view and other such plot agonies.

As a potential reader, she shrugged her shoulders and made a passing statement that not only transformed and clarified how I was thinking about the project, but that also renewed my passion to dive back into a project that had been causing me so much emotional grief.

Suddenly, the project was new again; suddenly, I liked it again. Don't underestimate the power of liking what you're working on. It's so important, every time.

And, for those of you who're wondering: all she said was, "okay, so Tink is the computer." And... it all went from there.

3. Set a Liveline (get it?)

A liveline for yourself, you know... a deadline, except without... death.

Seriously, though: for me, telling my editor (or someone else to whom you feel accountable) that I was working on this project and could send it to him by xx date really lit a fire under me. And, because I'd set the date myself, it was something that I felt in control of, something that I was excited for. 

Saying to myself, "okay, you've marinated on this project for almost a year now; you've had a truly transformative conversation about it (in addition to a lot of non-transformative conversations about it!), and now you're excited about it again. Great! So... finish it by this date."

For me, it was invigorating and exactly what I needed.

You might notice that very little of this was about the plot itself. And that's intentional. So much of writing is in our own minds, in our own senses of self-worth; in our own feelings. Yes, it's a craft, and there are lots of craft-oriented strategies -- storyboarding comes to mind, as I've written about on here before -- but there's something about addressing our emotions as writers that, to me, is extremely helpful in the actual writing process. 

What about you? How do you get through when your plot hates you?