There comes a time in every book I'm writing that I realize I've gone the wrong direction. If I'm lucky, it's only a couple of thousand words. If I'm not lucky, it's more than that. But it doesn't matter how many or how few words I have to cut, I hate it. I get this sinking feeling every time I realize it. 🙁
Yesterday, I lost a whole day's work because of that feeling. I was writing a scene that was so hard to write it was like trying to pull words from molasses. It took me a whole day to realize why: I'd gone the wrong direction.
I only lost about 1200 words, which isn't a lot, but my first clue should have been that it took me a whole damn day to write those 1200 words. When it's coming that slow, there's definitely something wrong. But I kept thinking I'd bust through the barrier and the words would flow. They did not, and I finally had to admit defeat.
How do you know when you've taken a wrong turn? First, ask yourself how hard it is to write forward. Are you fighting for every word you put on the page? Are you staring at the screen and wondering what happens next — or, worse, clicking over to Facebook and Twitter and seeing what's happening there? If so, you might have a problem.
Not every difficult patch means you're going the wrong way. I wish I could tell you how to know for sure, but for me it comes down to being unable to envision the story continuing this way and seeing it happen another way. Yesterday, when I saw the black moment if I took another direction, I knew I had to do it because I hadn't the first clue what the black moment was going to be if I kept forcing my book down the path I was going. The surest clue for me was that I could see a way to the end, complete with character growth, if I took the new direction. The old direction had me stumped.
Sometimes, your subconscious throws this stuff at you out of seemingly nowhere. Through eleven books for Harlequin Presents so far, I've learned to listen to that subconscious. That's one of the skills necessary to having a publishing career. You have to write steadily, and you have to know when to cut. Perfectly pretty words with no goals or stakes for the characters aren't doing you any favors. Likewise, words that might have a purpose but seem to rehash things that have already happened also need to be looked at hard. There is certainly some amount of characters thinking about what happened — but if you begin a scene with a recitation of everything that's happened up to that point, you might need to look again.
I find that I can write a whole lot of pretty nothing when I'm spinning my wheels. It's recognizing that it's nothing and cutting it before it does more damage that's the trick. Fortunately, I was able to do that yesterday. And what happened when I cut it and started over? I gained the words back pretty fast, and then some.
Never be afraid to cut when it's not working. Never be afraid to try a new direction. You might surprise yourself when you do. 🙂