When Your Writing Doesn’t Seem Like Writing

I’ve been writing for many years. I always loved it in school, but in University I started taking it more seriously. You know, by writing picture books. I also wanted to write kid’s novels a la Roald Dahl, but the Roald Dahl “ness” never flowed. This is important – I am not RD, I am PG.

Roald Dahl in his writing hut. Click the photo for an awesome article on this hut!

So my novels, yet unpublished and so far, and most of them highly unpublishable (as Neil Gaiman might say, they are packed away in the attic where no other eyes will see them), have been dark, fairytale-esque stories with kid heroes. I generally tend to believe that adults are the worst. These books take so much work and I love it, even when it’s not flowing well.

I am currently working on one that I am VERY excited about. I have been balancing my teaching life and parenting and husbanding life with being a visual artist, some picture book manuscripts and the illustration plans, with this novel. I am moving slowly on it in order to fit everything else in, but more importantly, to give myself the time to reflect on where it is.

This morning I promised myself I would write, from 5-6am, and that I would wrap up a chapter I started on Monday.

But on Monday, I wrote myself into a corner.

You see, I have a loose plan for the story. I have a tight plan for the next 2 chapters. And I know my characters and I know my plot and I have the setting nailed down. The voice is flowing and the plot twists are juicy.

But … I wrote myself into a corner.

Because, writing from point A to point B doesn’t always make for good reading. One of the key ideas I have garnered from Emma Coats’ 22 Rules of Storytelling, according to Pixar, is to never hand anything to your characters; coincidence can only lead to another problem. (Today, I was thinking a lot about rules #2, 12 and 19.)

While I knew where I needed to go in the story, I didn’t know how to get there.

That means this morning, my writing didn’t look like writing.

14976578_1015516775226335_6882984473210170025_oIt looked like me, sitting in the almost-dark, with a sad baby (he was gassy and couldn’t sleep), thinking.

It looked like me, in silence, with no music or TV or computer. No words in front of me. Nothing.

I ran through the scene in my head. Changing anything to date would mean making it too easy on those characters. That would mean a boring story.

So I started thinking of every possibility. There was a piece missing somewhere, to bridge the scenes. I played through the scene again, like a movie in my head, and I thought and thought and thought. I played many different versions.

And yet, my writing still looked like I was hanging out on the couch, cuddling a sad baby.

Finally, a simple line of dialogue came to me. It was four words.

There were plot holes still, but there was at least something to work with.

Wise words from Neil Gaiman. The man’s a genius. Sometimes, writing as only you can includes playing it all out on the couch or in the car. It still counts!

So I finally took out my phone, and opened my notes app and jotted down the dialogue. I made some notes on what to do with it – where to go in and fill a plot hole in a prior scene; listing some wonders about things I had written that maybe meant something other than what I first thought.

I can now move to the rest of the scene, that was planned and ready to be written. It’s an intense, crazy, juicy one. It is going to throw off the readers and pick up the pace. And I knew I could get there, but I couldn’t get there by writing down the words yet.

Writing is a messy business. I firmly believe that if it isn’t messy and challenging and hard and sometimes even frustrating and other times joy-filled – if it isn’t those things, then the writing isn’t being done properly, or well.

When your writing looks like everything other than words on a page, it is okay.

When it looks like sitting on the couch, or cutting the grass, or drawing some pictures, or going for a run (yeah, I don’t do that) – it can still be writing.

We can’t work out every issue, flaw, plot-hole or scene-problem with words right away.

Writing doesn’t need to be writing every time: thinking is a part of writing. 


Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website – you can even sign up for my newsletter there! You can email me at patrick@patrickg.ca. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!

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