On Making Myself Write a Difficult Chapter

10 11 2009

Yesterday the inevitable happened.  I hit a chapter where the majority of what happens is more emotionally motivated than action-driven, which for me means it was a difficult chapter to write.  I’ve heard some authors say that they skip right over the more difficult parts and then go back through later and write those sections during the revision process.  I can’t do that.  Why?  Because I’d never get back around to writing those scenes.  I’d skip them for the same reasons every time–I find it difficult to have a dialogue-driven, emotional scene.  I work better with thoughts, movement, and setting than I do dialogue and interaction, and I know I’m not alone in saying that.


When I get into a tough spot like that, I have the same two problems pop up: I lose motivation to continue writing (even though I know the next chapter will be an easier one to write), and I start getting ideas for new projects.  I opened up the first scene of the chapter in Scrivener yesterday morning, and it took me all day to get 352 words in that scene.  And yet I was able to complete a first draft of the entire chapter last night (all seven scenes of it).  How did I finally make it through?


First, I opened up a document and typed out the notes floating around in my head about the other project I came up with.  It will be a fun project for me (writing a book as a gift for my niece), and thinking about it was proving to be a huge distraction from my novel writing.  So I got it out of my system.   Once I had the notes down, I was able to let that part of my brain rest and more fully focus on the chapter I wanted to finish before I went to sleep.


Second, I didn’t push myself to be perfect in the scenes or even to have high word counts in them.  Some scenes only ended up with 180-250 words (as opposed to the 400-500-word range in the majority of the other scenes).  The chapter isn’t perfect and will require special attention during the revision process, but I know that once it is revised, it will be one of the chapters with the most impact in the novel.  Those chapters that offer the most impact are often those that are the most difficult to write–nothing sounds good when it gets put on paper, my internal editor screams at me, and more information is needed to really tie the chapter’s material to the other chapters around it.  But for now, it’s done.  When I typed the last word in the last scene of the chapter, I felt like I had accomplished more than when I had finished the previous seven chapters put together.


Another thing that helped me is that I shared with my writing community that I was having troubles getting through that particular chapter.  I reached out, and people responded with encouraging words.  Sometimes knowing others are out there rooting for you is all you need to get back to trying.


And so to celebrate, I’m moving on to the next chapter today, rejoicing in the fact that not all chapters are that difficult to write.  To sum all that up, my three tips for you while writing a difficult scene/chapter/section are these:


  1. Remove distractions.  If you need to disconnect your wireless, disconnect it.  Several people swear by Write or Die to keep them writing, so you might want to try it and see if it works for you.  If you need to get the dishes done before you can concentrate, then get the dishes done.  If you’ve got ideas for a new story floating around in your head, then write them down and get them out of your head so you have more room for your current story to move around and take shape.
  2. Once you start writing, don’t hold yourself to a particular set of standards, whether they are language, plot, or word-count standards.  Remember that the revision process will help you smooth out the rough spots.  Give yourself a break and celebrate that you are sitting down and challenging yourself to write what you know will be a difficult scene/chapter/section.
  3. When you are having difficulties, let other people know about them–reach out to people, and you will be surprised at all the directions the encouragement starts rolling in from.  It’s nice to not feel alone.


Now that I’ve removed the distraction of the blog post that had been taking some of my mental energy, I’m ready to turn to my novel.




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