The Prospect Before Me….

At the moment I have a short story due, and I admit, it’s being recalcitrant. Or I am.

It’s been my experience that I work better under pressure and that when I’m feeling uninterested in something, or laggy about it, the reason is usually that something about the project isn’t really ready to be barfed out onto pages yet.

But I still have to start. Because those stories don’t really write themselves and they don’t fix themselves. I have to go and make a mess before I can make it better. No matter how much planning and thinking I do before hand.

“No plan survives contact with the enemy” is attributed to any number of famous soldiers and tacticians. In the case of writing, no plot/writing plan survives contact with the page. As the words go down and the story starts to work and grow, things I was sure were going to be wonderful turn out stupid, or bits I was sure were going to be clever fail like a souffle on the Titanic. And the things I decided to worry about later, turn up a lot sooner and sometimes they aren’t a problem at all. And sometimes they are. Or the silly thing I threw in just because I kind of liked it and figured I’d have to take it out later turned out to be very useful indeed (and I can’t help wondering if something in my brain had figured this all out ahead of time and just hadn’t bothered to send me a memo.)


When stories are misbehaving at the start of the job like this, I grab onto something trivial about the story and beat the crap out of it. I’ll research it and poke it and go in all kinds of strange directions with it, just to see what it heaves to the surface. Usually some interesting fact or odd angle will arise that sets the whole thing into wild motion and then, I’m off!

But I have to poke it quite a bit first. Until it starts growling and wriggling and yelling “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” And then we shall have a wrestle. And then we shall have a fight. And all my plans will go to hell in a lovely hand basket and come back with a bow on top (after a bit of singeing and manhandling.)

No story idea survives contact with the keyboard, unscathed. Because scathed is much more interesting than pristine.


About Kat Richardson

Writer, editor, eccentric pain in the tail, bestselling author of the Greywalker novels.
This entry was posted in Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Prospect Before Me….

  1. Elaine says:

    Yes, writing is a contact sport! I also work better with pressure, specifically a deadline. Especially one that involves my making a commitment to another person.

    I forgot I have ways of making the story talk. Thanks for the reminder. I need to use them right now.

  2. Andrew says:

    Touche. I’m looking over my comic script and other writing projects and see what my peeps think. All the stuff I needed.

  3. Rae says:

    My main problem is time. I would love to have all the time in the world to write, but having to earn a living another way annoys the hell out of me. I’m not a good enough writer to give up the day job.

    So my pressure is the little time I have to write. That seems to spur me on quite nicely.

    My main bug bear is that the story normally takes on a life of its own regardless what I want to do with it. When did the characters take over and I lose control of my own story?


  4. Cana says:

    “Barfed out onto pages”…I love it!! You give me hope that being uptight is not a precursor to being a successful author. Have you ever used “verbal diarrhea”? Anyway, my question is pretty basic…how do you know that what you would find interesting in a book wouldn’t bore someone else to tears? Do you conduct focus groups? Have the mailman read a draft? What? I’m thinking along the lines of a niche area, such as nursing.

    Thanks for the consideration,

  5. Rae: I used to write a couple of hours a night and most of the weekend to get the first two books ready to go to press while I was working a 50-hr/week job. It can be done, but you have to have support from spouse or friends to take up the slack in chores and so on.

    I have rarely had trouble with characters running away with a story. But I’m more of a planner or “architect” as George RR Martin calls them: I am GOD and the characters obey me, so long as I understand what motivates them to do what I want.

    now… motivating them and writing a plot that doesn’t suck… that’s harder. for me.

    Cana: I’ve used the term “verbal diarrhea” but it’s kind of cliche now, so I like to try something else to get your attention.

    As to what’s interesting: don’t start second-guessing yourself already. WRITE it and then let it sit a while before you either read it yourself or ask someone (or a group of someones) you really respect to tell you what they think. Yes, I do have people read for me, both subject experts and lay-readers, because I may just totally mess things up and that’s a bad way to start off. They are both valuable because facts have to balance with flow.

    Once you get to the point of being regularly published, it’s still helpful to have readers or workshop groups or whatever works for you, but you’ll also start to have a better idea of what works and what doesn’t, what’s too much and what’s enough. Sometimes you still mess up, but you shouldn’t beat yourself for it: writing is an ongoing process of improvement so you learn from the reviews and you go on.

    Here’s the thing: don’t assume that what works for one person will work for you. Try a lot of different things until you find one or two that really fit your style of writing. I like to research and plan. But I’ve also learned to go where the story leads, and make changes on the fly when something better comes along. But it’s been several years that I’ve been learning how to do that.

    Do what you’re comfortable with initially, then start pushing your comfort level with new things once you feel a little more secure about your basics. Writing is harsh stuff; sometimes you have to have safety nets or it’s just too hard to do without screaming.

  6. Cana says:

    Thanks for the insight. The OCD nurse in me tends to over-analyze and your system sounds like it would lessen the chance that I would omit a given plot-twist out of hand. So I’m cliche? So does that mean that I can no longer use technicolor yawn? Thanks a lot! :o)

  7. Technicolor yawn is always good! (well… you know what I mean….)

  8. Levi says:

    OCD and ADD the main killers of most of my story lines (that are still unfinished) so I will take this advice and run with it.

    By the way I just love book 4 Vanished.

  9. It’s hard to stay focussed–especially when you don’t have a deadline and there are other things wanting your attention–but I’m glad I’ve inspired you to give it a try!

    Glad you liked the book–I’m kind of fond of it myself.

Comments are closed.