Losing the Story - Just Part of the Job

free forest



"--I don't know much

And I'm not lying

But I think you just have to keep on trying

That's what's going to save me..." 

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

So much in writing is about getting lost. Not surprising really, since being lost is at the very heart of all exploration. And don't be fooled by the pajama pants, nerdy glasses and bookish temperament: writers are explorers of the most adventurous sort. A true writer's brain is the equivalent of any whip-cracking, sea sailing, earth tasting, moon-landing globe trekker there's ever been.

To tell a good story, you have to be willing to go places--or at least get there--by the most unique method possible. No matter your process of writing a story (pantser/plotter/etc.), I think that applies on some level.

After all, you're not likely to discover a new path by constantly treading the ones you know.  In that way, much of the storytelling journey is done by compass, not by map. There's a sense of direction, where you want to go, but not necessarily an exact idea of where you're at. And there's rarely one set path you're going to follow to get there.

Sounds exciting, right? (It is!) Here's the thing: If you've ever been truly lost--I'm talking no clue where you're at or where you're going but for your next step kind of lost--it can be scary as hell too.

"He stopped to look at me and said

'Child, don't fear doing things wrong'

Yet I am still afraid

But if anything

That's what's going to save me..."

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

Now you've stepped in it. You've done written yourself into the trees and the forest is lost to you. Like a hunting hound, you've chased that rabbit too far, too fast. There are brambles, tangled plots and meaningless landmarks/characters everywhere you turn. Those harmless shadows you raced by only moments before have somehow caught up. They've gathered round you to form an impenetrable wall of darkness.

You're lost. For real lost, not happy existential lost. You feel as though just a few more miscalculated steps in the wrong direction and the story might be gone for good. We've all been there. Personally, it happens to me once in every story I write.

It goes down something like this: 

1) Inspiration hits!

2) I write like mad!

3) A few chapters in, I realize I might actually have a story.

4) I continue to write. I jot down notes. I do some research. I sketch out an outline of what I think the story is going to be. A true skeleton is formed.

5) I keep writing. Putting flesh on the bones, giving a body to the head I created.

6) Then I get to the legs: Crap! I've only got one good leg. Crap! Now I've got 7 shaky legs. Crap! Now I have none...

7) Having nothing to stand on, I question why I started writing the story in the first place. I might even question why I wanted to WRTIE in the first place. The thrill of exploration is gone. I'm scared. I'm lost.

"--Gotta stop worrying about everything to the letter

And sometimes when it's too hard to get on

It just might be you that I'll come upon

But I find it hard to believe

But if anything

That's what's going to save me..."

~New Year's Eve - First Aid Kit~

I've read the writing advice many times (you probably have as well): YOU HAVE TO WRITE YOURSELF OUT OF A JAM. I think the point is this - Go ahead and plot, outline, burn candles, listen to music, go for a walk--do whatever stimulates your writing brain. But at the end of the day, words on paper is the trick that's going to get you out of the mess you're in.

It might take ten-thousand unused words or a dozen unsuccessful steps to get you back on the right path. Ultimately, you'll find your way if you just keep writing. When you're drafting a story, it's all too easy to get turned around once the trail is cold. You lose purpose, and a story with no purpose or direction isn't a story at all, just words. 

On those occasions, don't despair. Remember that getting a little lost is part of the process. There's a way out, even if you don't see it right away.

 ~EJW~ 

This post was inspired by a terrific new band I found over the weekend. Their name is First Aid Kit and the lyrics above are quoted from the song New Year's Eve (video and full lyrics below). I highly recommend their album 'The Lion's Roar'. They helped me get out of a story-related mire, and I thought they might be able to do the same for you. : )



NEW YEAR'S EVE - FIRST AID KIT - LION'S ROAR ALBUM


Well it's a new year
With it comes new hope and new fear
Met a young man who was in tears
He asked me what induces us to stay here
I said I don't know much
And I'm not lying
But I think you just have to keep on trying
And I know I am naïve
But if anything

That's what's going to save me
That's what's going to save me

Took a stroll around the neighborhood
Where the trees are swaying
People pass in cars with their windows down
With a pop song playing
A man walked by
Rocking back and forth the street
With a drunken smile to go along
He stopped to look at me and said
"Child, don't fear doing things wrong"
Yet I am still afraid
But if anything

That's what's going to save me
That's what's going to save me

Now I have a lot to learn and I'm starting tonight
Gotta stop looking at things like they're black and they're white
Gotta write more songs, love a little more, treat my friends better,
Gotta stop worrying about everything to the letter
And sometimes when it's too hard to get on
It just might be you that I'll come upon
But I find it hard to believe
But if anything

That's what's going to save
That's what's going to save me

Tell me tell me
Oh what's going to save me






25 comments:

  1. Writers are definitely explorers! We're similarly blessed with a curiousity about the world that most other people never have.

    And yes, from time to time that calls for a wee bit of a backtrack...

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  2. Had to laugh at the seven shaky legs!

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  3. Being a pantser, I spend half my writing time backtracking to where I stepped off the trail, but I see a lot of interesting things in the bushes sometimes. :)

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  4. Still, laughing out loud. What a pointed description of the writing process!

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  5. Love this post~ I agree with LG Smith, above :)

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  6. I definitely think pantsers will relate the most to this, but those rigid outliners have probably been there as well. No matter how much I think I know what a story is going to be about or where it's going, it always seems to change.

    EJ

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  7. I echo L.G.s sentiments. I'm all over the place, getting lost, finding my way back half-starving. But in the end I have a story written and that's all that matter! Followed.

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  8. You said it well. We read because of the journey and not for the ending. When a book is good, I usually don't want it to end. Being lost and unraveling mysteries is the fun part. That's what makes our mind active and fueled to keep trekking.

    If as the writer, we get lost and then successfully figure out the way to our destination, we are writing for our readers.


    Lee
    A Faraway View
    #atozchallenge

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  9. So true. I believe that the biggest difference between writers who finish and those who gave up is this: Writers who finish acknowledge that their lost, but know that they'll find their way any moment now. Those who give up are those who sit down and mourn that they got lost at all. :-D

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  10. I wonder if J.J. Abrams had this kind of post in mind when he created the show "LOST".

    See what I did there?

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  11. lost, or a journey. Sometimes, in the midst of things, I lose track which.

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  12. I had a giggle at the pajama pants (I'm wearing pajama pants right now, lol).

    You are so right. I have to keep reminding myself that no writing is wasted writing and anything can be fixed.

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  13. I found your blog through Lynda Young's Aussie BBQ, so I thought I'd pop over and check it out. Great post, and great advice, especially the part about continuing to write even when it gets difficult. I think that a lot of people give up because they want immediate results; that's the tough part about writing, is that it can take a long time before you get the results you want. But it's worth it in the end, especially if you enjoy writing.

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  14. Good points! I think it's why writers bond with each other so emphatically .... how can anyone understand what we go thru?? My hubby tries, and is great at it, but it's hard for him to get how I could sequester myself away in my office for days at a time. Cuz I'm in the middle of a story!!!

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  15. AMAZING picture. I love everything about it. Really good post too! I followed you over from another blog (W.I.P. it) Nice to meet you.

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  16. Hey there - I'm visiting you back from the bbq. *waves* Very encouraging post here! I don't usually get too lost because I'm a neurotic plotter, but with my latest wip I'm trying to be more of a pantster, and there's definitely been some wrong turns along the way.

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  17. I think I need to borrow some wire cutters to get out of the jam I'm in....

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  18. Hey, I'm stopping by from Lynda's blog. Nice to meet you!!

    Love the song. The lyrics totally go with writing. We writers are the top adventurers of them all!

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  19. I absolutely loved the "crap - I've only got one leg - crap now I've got seven shaky legs - crap now I have none." Have you been at my house lately? That's exactly what I've been thinking about my story in my head. But you're right, the only way out is to keep writing. Great post and song!

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  20. Boy, you've got writers pegged. I loved this post. You did a great job.

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  21. You described it so perfectly! There have been times when I've thought, but how will I get from here to there? How will I wrap this up? And I feel a bit panicky. But I step away and sometimes meditate and it is only after this great fear has set in and I've worried it a bit, that really FUN inspiration strikes. Thanks for putting it all so well.

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  22. This is exactly right! It's just what writing is. I need to learn to keep on pushing through, though, instead of getting panicky and going home when I'm lost :)

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  23. Nice! I love the description you give writers.

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  24. Great advice. I think no writing is ever wasted. Even if you get terribly lost you are still learning something about your character and your story.

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“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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