Since I’ve been having an issue with false starts lately, I thought it would be a good topic for today’s blog post. I recently got caught up in a frustrating series of false starts that ended up leading me around in a huge aggravating circle. Ah, creativity!
What are false starts? If you’ve been writing for any appreciable amount of time, you’ve probably had your fair share of them. If you’re just starting out on your writer’s journey, hold onto your hat, because it’s going to happen to you too. False starts are when your story grinds to a stop and no matter what you do, no matter how many times you use the jumper cables and check under the hood, the engine is dead and there’s no hope of reviving it. You may have started the story with lots of passion and enthusiasm and even a clear idea of where you were going, but something crashed it: you wrote yourself into an impossible hole, you lost the thread of the plot, your interest in the story completely faded, or it just didn’t turn out to be the story you were trying to write. You have to scrap it.
If you’ve been writing for a long time, false starts can be extra painful because you’ve probably gotten better and faster at writing. That means you wrote a lot of story and there was some pretty decent writing in there before it sputtered out. Now you spent all this time and creativity, and it just runs down the drain. All that time and all those words, wasted.
Recently, I started writing a story that I thought I had a clear vision for. I can get a lot of words down in a short period of time, so I ended up in that particular hell of having a lot of writing that amounted to nothing. I started with one idea in mind, but by about 15,000 words I realized I didn’t like the story and I didn’t’ want to tell it. I revamped it, using some of the same characters in a different situation, and got to about the 50,000 word mark on that version before I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. So, I tried some other story ideas–one got to about 12,000 words and the other to 20,000 before they were dead in the water as well. I felt like ripping my hair out.
What happened? A few days ago, I went back to the story that reached 50,000 words, felt a renewed passion for it, and now I’m happily working on finishing it and eager to see what happens next–and I know how it ends. What the hell, brain? What the hell? Maybe I just needed to give it some breathing room, and because I like torture I had to spend the time also trying to claw my face off in frustration.
False starts hurt. It sucks to have this pile of nothing that you spent so much time on. You could have been using that precious writing time working on something that you would finish and is publishable. But are false starts really just fated to sit forever in limbo, mocking us? Maybe not. Rather than torture myself with my errant children, I came up with a few ways false starts can be helpful:
- Use them for new ideas. Maybe someday down the line you can look at one of your false starts and find some element, character, or plot idea in there that makes a great idea for another story. Maybe you weren’t telling the right story, but the right story is in there somewhere. Don’t delete your partly-done work, for later you might find a gem in it.
- Use them for patchwork. I’ve taken pieces of fizzled-out story and put them into other stories, with some modifications. It’s like having a rag bag to work out of, and if you do the sewing right, the seams will be invisible. It’s also nice to see your word count for the day go up without even typing a word!
- Use them for practice. When you’re not working on something and you’re in the dreaded drifting around period, waiting for inspiration to strike, keep your writing muscle strong by pulling out your old discarded pieces and writing something ridiculous into them. The exercise might fire your brain up. Were you writing a murder mystery? Have a clown on a unicycle run your detective down in the street. Writing a romance? Have your heroine princess be kidnapped by bandits and taken to an island where she’s forced to give pedicures all day. The absurdity just might get the rusty wheels turning.
There’s no way to get around the fact that false starts suck–but they’re also a part of the writing experience. Sometimes we have to write through Hell, multiple times, to get to our creative Heaven.