I’d like to talk about what happens when I find myself stuck behind a crease in the creative tapestry. When these hiccups happen, my whole world seems to be tossed about like Pi’s raft during a storm. After eight years of writing, I still find myself taken aback when something like a roadblock enters my path, throwing me, seemingly, off my game. These roadblocks, these toss-ups I’m referring to are about story: the plot, character, and sequence of events that go on in whatever I may be working on. When drafting, I often find that the original idea never ends up being the same from draft to draft. These differences can be small, a matter of grammar and mechanics, or they can be large, whole scenes or character identities changed. When it happens, it gives you a wake up call to the very nature that is story before it is nice and bound in publication.
Even now, on my fourth draft of Project Stripes, after two years of working on it, I find myself making HUGE changes to the plot. You might have heard from other writers, who are well published, that it takes dozens of drafts and revisions to get it right in the end. Well, they’re right. I attribute a majority of these plot changes as necessary action because I am still getting to know my main character. His motivations are still being kept secret from me. He’s probably the most complicated character I’ve ever written, but I’m up for the challenge. I know in the end this will make for a good read (and a good sell for publishers ;) just sayin’).
Speaking of challenges, the title of this post is “Roadblocks Aren’t Set in Stone,” which refers back to what I just mentioned about the drafting process. I’ve found when writing, even when I think I’ve got everything figured, something will come along and spike my imagination and change my whole perception of the story I’m working on. When this happens, I will be both elated and terrified. Elated because fantastic!, new stuff about my story I didn’t know before. Terror because oh no, I would have to go back and re-examine what I thought had been a “solid” piece of writing, ready for a second pair of eyes to take a look. The terror would dominate the elation for the most part. It would paralyze me in thinking that I have not progressed as far as I thought, because I just rounded a bend, come out of a tunnel, and a road twice, three times as long would stretch out before me.
I still had a long way to go. And those times of terror and doubt would mean the inner critic would win The Old Battle at that time. I would carry on, however, and add and delete passages to fit the developing story. But that’s the great thing about the creative process. Much like our country’s laws, they are living documents. They are meant to be changed, re-evaluated when one is met with new information or finds a new way to make the plot clearer. It has taken me a long time to embrace these radical, or not, changes in story whenever I am encountered with it. It still does take me long time, and I find myself panicked at the thought of making major changes so close to a deadline, for example. However, when the changes are made, I find the story is TEN TIMES better than what I had before.
Still roadblocks, or additions, are a natural part of the drafting process and should be encouraged. Embrace the change, the opportunity to let your characters, your story, to tell you things about it that you didn’t know before. When you try to force the story to fit your initial impressions of it, try to keep it in the perfect image at its birth, you neglect the opportunity to make the story to feel and read with all the fluidity found in a master of writing, of sport.
Have you ever watched a sporting event, racing, games, even martial arts tournaments? I invite you to watch one and notice how there comes a point in the proceedings when the athlete has this expression on their face. Determination. Pain. Adrenaline fueled. Committed. They become so engrossed in what they are doing, to win, to feel that rush of the sport, that they and their action are fused into one thing. They are no longer two different beings but become synonymous with the other. These kinds of moments can happen in writing too. When a reader, or you, are riding the coaster of a story through every dull moment all the way up to the crest of an action, the person and story become one. The person is absorbed by the world, and they no longer know what is real and what is fantasy. For that moment. And it’s fine if it lasts for a moment. They, and you, will want to come back for more. Those precious moments when you start smiling at your own prose, and not egotistically, is when you know you no longer are trying to force the story to go your own way. Those moments are when the characters become alive for you, and you can start learning from them as much as others will.
So if you ever become hindered by a roadblock, no matter what form it is, embrace it. I know it sounds mad at the moment. I know I would argue my own advice whenever it happens to me next. Nevertheless, do it.
Just do it.
Say challenge accepted to the new threat to you publishing your story. Wrestle with the pain, the fear, the doubt. Embrace the bloodlust you get from The Old Battle. Fight like the athletes would with yourself. Go for a run or hit the gym, if you’re frustrated and need a distraction to let the creative spirit simmer. Hell I know I have, a lot. But don’t abandon chance to create something great for yourself. Roadblocks are not setbacks but milestones to stand as a testament to look back on how far we have come in this journey of storytelling. So get out there and do it. Don’t worry about anyone else. Write for you. The right readers will come.