I sit at my laptop, typing merrily away. The story is humming along, characters are positioned and playing their roles. Everything is just where I want it to be. Then the little voice appears. It whispers, taunting. “That bit you just wrote – yeah, the part where she is fighting valiantly when the sword is knocked from her hands – yeah, that part right there? It’s been done before. A lot. Oh how I hate that little voice. The voice of self-doubt.
I reread the chapter I just wrote. The voice is right. It has been done before. Much more eloquently by better authors. It isn’t identical, but it is familiar. Contrived. Granted, the little voice is really all in my head, I know that. But it is so damned smug. So satisfied with itself for taking me down a peg or three. I scroll through what I’ve written and consider my options. If I was the same Jason of about five years ago, one of two things would have happened.
Option 1: I would have read the passage again, shrugged my shoulders and continued on. There was a time when I didn’t care if something was cliché. Then, when I was finished with the writing project, I would have begun to edit, seen all of the same old, same old elements in the story, throw my hands in the air, and tossed the manuscript in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. I have packing box filled with these types of manuscripts, a source of great shame to me.
Option 2: About two years ago, I would have panicked. It is too common. Every story about pirates has that moment in the story where the hero or heroine is overpowered or outsmarted, and momentarily all appears to be lost. Again, I would probably try, in futility, to salvage the moment, try to make it different, new, and exciting. I would inevitably fail, and frustrated, the manuscript would end up in my box of shame. Either way, the result would be the same.
But here’s the thing. I am older, and (marginally) wiser. Humans have been telling stories for as long as we have had the ability to speak. There are nearly no truly original moments left to tell. Everything is a variation on, or a twisting of other ideas, other stories. We have our ideas, we put them down on paper or disk, and give the old stories our own spin. Whether it is the hero’s journey, the haunted house, the thrilling tale of adventure, journeying across a distant land, The bones of the story have been laid bare hundreds of thousands of times. It is up to the teller of the story to make it new and exciting for the person listening to or reading the story. I have begun to realize this, and now I can look at my projects and decide if the element should stay in my story.
I kept that element once (Or, more accurately, a similar moment). It gave me the desired effect. Alright, it was a little clichéd, but I weighed the pros and cons and decided for the story I wanted to tell, the moment of pseudo-danger the heroine was in kept my interest, and I was pleased with the ultimate resolution. In my new project, The “knocked-away sword” moment was a little too much. It didn’t advance the plot quite the way I needed it to, and my main character was not supposed to be in quite the same type of danger. Ultimately, I feel my story is better for the excision. I lost about two days worth of work, but the passage works now, where before I was not at all confident.
Writing setbacks happen. I have found that during my writing journey over the last several years, I have begun to deal with them in a more productive fashion. It is easy to lock the project away and tell yourself it was no good, or that it has been done a million times before. It is so much better to think about your project. If you really want to tell the story, there is a way to make it work. Your story will be so much better for it. Plus, the feeling of accomplishment when you write the closing words of your story is truly amazing. Then you take a breath and smile. Then you realize that only about half the work is done. Now comes the proof reading, editing, and rewrites. But I find that I am still smiling. One step closer to publication.
One step closer.