Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Completing Your Novel: Three Keys to Avoid Distraction


I hate distractions!
Oh, look. It’s snowing.
What? Again? Noooooo!
Sorry. 
Where was I? 
Oh, yeah....
One of the greatest problems of completing fiction projects is the constant intrusion of distractions. No, not the weather; not the Terrible Trio of Chores, Children, and Chaos; but the inherent distractions of the the writing process itself.
Each new character, each new setting, each complication you encounter in the composition process can send your thoughts spinning off into all sorts of unintended directions that can alter your whole plot and purpose. Returning to your original intent can take days, weeks or months of diligent crafting and problem-solving that can prove either miraculous or disastrous. 
How does one avoid these unnecessary trips into potential oblivion? One of the best ways, is of course, outlining.
Outlining focuses your story and I highly recommend it…as long as you follow your outline better than I follow mine. 
For a great guide into the process of writing and using outlines, I highly recommend K.M. Weiland's Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success.
As instrumental as outlines are, though, Weiland and the authors she interviews caution us that becoming a slave to them has its dangers, most significantly the stifling of inspiration. 
A second key, then, is to be flexible, keeping open to the urging of your muse. For example, sometimes a small but insistent voice tells you it is imperative to kill one of your favorite characters, not because you dislike him/her/it, but for all the possibilities that the character’s demise opens up for tension, complication, or resolution. Here's a hint: Do it!
If you cling to your original outline, those doors remain forever closed and the story will remain dull or flat. Listen to the voice and let the story develop in ways it must. The excitement of discovery will engage your mind so strongly that all diversions will vanish.
So key #1 is plan or outline and #2 is to be flexible. Those are pretty common and easy-to-recall rules. Right?
There is a third key, however, that came to mind today only when the park behind the house disappeared under a veil of thick, sloppy, white gunk. It is also one of the most important lessons any parent can teach a foot-stomping, frustrated five-year-old. Remember this conversation?
“Mom, when am I gonna grow up?"
“A little while longer, dear.”
But, Mom, I wanna grow up now!”
“Don’t worry, honey. It will happen sooner than you know. Just remember: Patience is a virtue.”
"I don' wanna be patient. I wanna be big!"
As time goes on, we discover the truth of our mother's admonition. Adulthood comes soon enough, as long as we patiently endure.
For the purposes of the writing life, the same advice applies. Patience is not only the key to enduring childhood; it is the third key to avoiding the distractions preventing you from finishing your novel. Particularly when the ending seems so far away.
Yes, ideas build on ideas. Subplots divert and expand the theme. Revision leads to more revision. The whole story devolves into an incomprehensible mess...or so it seems. But patience and diligence can and will guide your story through the baffling and exasperating labyrinth to a logical and satisfying conclusion. 
Just like they will get us through this incessant winter. 
At the risk of becoming tedious and boring, today, in the middle of April, it’s snowing yet again. AGAIN! 
It’s frustrating! I want to claw out my eyes and bite off my fingers, but that's not a totally bad thing. Seriously. It reminded me of Mom’s words from long ago: “Patience is a virtue.”
Heeding her lesson, this morning I turned to a writer whose poems and essays never fail to calm the turmoil of the moment, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Grabbing my worn and highlighted copy of his collected works and also scanning his numerous maxims on Brainy Quotes, I found the following:  “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”
took a deep breath, swallowed, and claimed the virtuousness of composure. 
I closed the curtains and resolved to apply the same restraint and sense of calm to finishing my latest project.  I decided even though the end seems far away, I will write! I will sit at my keyboard and type until the story is completed.
And I will complete it.
I’m pretty sure.
Some day.
When the snow stops.
I hope.