Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What to do when a writer gets lost...

David Farland is an awesome fantasy writer. He does writing workshops and teaches writing classes. Or he used to until his writing career got too busy. Brandon Sanderson and Stephanie Meyer both took his class. :) Anyhow, I get an email from him--about one a day--with awesome writing advice. CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO SUBSCRIBE TO HIS EMAILS. Here's what he has to say about getting lost while writing:

I got an email today from a writer who said, “I'm 19 and currently writing a science fiction novel. This is my first novel and I have no idea where to go or what direction to head in. Please, could you give me even an idea of help please, because I haven't an idea of what to do now?” Wow, talk about déjà vu. I felt that way when I was 19, trying to figure out how to finish a novel.
Every writer gets lost, even the great ones. Sometimes we find our way out of the woods, sometimes we don’t. Have you ever noticed that even your favorite writers create works that don’t quite deliver? Pick anyone who has won a Nobel Prize, and you’ll find plenty of works in their career that don’t measure up. I loved the writing of Hemingway, Borges, Steinbeck, Marquez and others, but not all of their works struck me with equal power. Some of their stories were utterly forgettable. Even Shakespeare wrote some forgettable plays.
Hopefully, you’ll find your way out of the mess that you’re in. Tolkien wrote that when he was developing LORD OF THE RINGS, he got his heroes to the gates of Moria and “for many years” he halted. Even Tolkien got lost. In fact, he got lost very soon into the novel. Many critics have suggested that he was good and lost when he wrote about Tom Bombadil. (I’m not going to jump into that fight.) But when Tolkien began writing again, the words just flowed. He’d found his way.
So what do you do when you’re lost?
1) Stay calm. Don’t go off writing in every direction, looking for scenes that aren’t there, making up junk just to exercise your fingers on the keyboard.
2) Figure out where you’re going. Look at your character’s biggest conflicts, biggest problems, and consider how the character will have to react. What goal does your character have next?
Remember that very often when you’re feeling lost, it’s because you’ve actually lost sight of one of your character’s primary needs or conflicts.
3) Look for landmarks. Are there any great stories that you admire similar to what you’re writing? Perhaps if you study them, you’ll find a model for what you’re doing, something that will provide some tips on how to tell your own tale.
But writing courses, books on writing, advice columns, or writer’s blogs might also help you find your way. Those are all “landmarks.”
4) Seek out a guide. You might have to ask a lot of “strangers” for help. Not all guides are equal. Have you ever stopped and asked someone for directions, only to be sent the wrong way?
It happens all of the time when you’re driving, and it happens even more often when you’re open to advice but not a slave to it. Seek advice, but don’t follow it blindly.
5) Be your own guide. No one else can tell your story for you. It’s too personal. In fact, very often, other people may not even see the story that you’re trying to tell. The truth is, in your writing career you’ll feel lost many times. Most often, it comes when you’re young, when you’re just learning your craft. But the truth is that as we get older, we tend to write more complex stories, and old writers get lost just as often as the new ones.

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