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A Writing Journey


Part 5:
Problem Solving and Despair

This month's discussion of the writing process is a bit unusual, as we look at two very different aspects of writing; one a necessary part of the process, the other a detriment to it.

You might recall a writer's meme I referenced previously, in which the writer goes from saying, 'hey, this is really good' to 'hmm, I guess it needs some work' to 'this is trash' to 'I am trash' to 'I guess it's okay' to 'hey, this is really good!'

This may sound like an exaggeration, but as a writer, I find it painfully relatable. Writing is an exhilarating pursuit, but it has its ups and downs. Ideas that thrill you one day may feel lackluster the next, and scenes that once amazed you can look amateurish a few months later. Inevitably, these perceived failings in your work somehow translate into seeing yourself as a failure. I can't tell you how many times I've wondered if I have what it takes to be an author, or have contemplated giving up because I just know I'll never be good enough.

So what does any of this have to do with problem solving? Well, problem solving, as it turns out, can often lead to such lows. It is a very necessary part of writing a book, as many problems arise that need addressing (especially for a discovery writer!). You may need to solve issues with the timeline, figure out how to write your characters out of tricky situations, address problems with the worldbuilding, and so on.

For me, problem solving usually involves long brainstorming sessions. I'll open a new text file on Scrivener (or a new Google Doc) and write out: 1. the problem I am trying to solve, 2. why it's an issue, 3. possible solutions, and 4. how I would incorporate those solutions, their pros and cons, which option is best, etc. Often, I explore new possibilities by asking myself 'what if' questions. Other times, I do my brainstorming on paper, where I am able to better visualize my ideas. If brainstorming isn't working, I may go for a walk to mull things over. Something about the rhythmic movement seems to stimulate the brain, and it's amazing how often the pieces just click into place once I start moving!

This process can be a lot of fun; nothing feels quite as rewarding as coming up with a clever solution to a problem that previously stumped you. Sometimes, I find the pieces of an answer are already present in the story, and I just need to fashion them into a solution. Other times, new ideas and characters reveal themselves, and adding them into the story breathes new life into the project.

But sometimes, the brainstorming fails to yield results, despite your best efforts. Sometimes, you run into a wall, and no amount of banging your head against it seems to make any difference. Instead of rewarding you, the process can leave you feeling discouraged, defeated. The story's shortcomings become magnified in your mind, while the things you loved about it fade to the background, until all you can see are its faults. Your story is trash. And somehow, that must mean you are trash as well.

I wish I could say this was not a part of my writing process, but there isn't a single story I've committed to that hasn't led me to such a moment of despair. The good news? It's always temporary. As certain as I may be that I'm a fraud and my story is terrible, the feelings inevitably pass. The wall that I beat my head against finally cracks, and the once insurmountable problem crumbles to sudden pieces, revealing the clear path forward. Hope is restored, and the passion reignites as I fall back in love with my book. I stride forward in confidence once again, knowing that I may not be as good as I could be or wish to be, but that I'm doing something I love and doing it with all my heart; and in the end, that is enough.

When it came to When Shadows Fall, there was a precise moment that tested both my problem solving skills and my resolve. One of my main concepts for the story is the idea of emotionry, machinery that (using a blend of magic and technology) runs on human emotions. This concept inspired me to start writing the story, however, after reviewing my early drafts, I found myself dissatisfied with my execution of it. It was such a cool idea, and yet the portrayal of it seemed to fall flat. The way I'd incorporated it didn't always make sense, and I struggled to visualize what it looked like, making it difficult to properly describe. And, though I spent a lot of book time 'explaining' the mechanics of it, I still didn't have a very good grasp of how it worked myself.

I decided to tackle the issue head on with some serious brainstorming. I roped my writing group into the process, sending them write-up after write-up listing all my ideas and problems with the current execution. We discussed it back and forth while I spent days working on drawings and diagrams to represent my ideas. (Evidence included in the full newsletter!)

This process was not aided by the fact that I am not mechanically minded. While I envisioned emotionry making use of gears in a cool way, I didn't really know how to incorporate them practically. I spent hours researching gears and related topics, but though the concepts made sense at the time, I struggled to apply them to emotionry.

I found myself feeling increasingly frustrated. All the hours I'd originally spent on the idea had amounted to nothing, and no matter how much I beat my head against the wall, I just wasn't coming up with satisfying solutions. There were several times I thought I'd cracked the code, only to come back to it a few days later and realize it STILL didn't make sense.

Eventually, it became so overwhelming and discouraging that I despaired of ever writing something that came even close to reaching the full potential of the original idea. I began seriously questioning my skill as a writer, and for a brief spell, I debated abandoning the novel, perhaps even giving up on writing entirely.

Of course, I soon got over these feelings of discouragement. But to be completely honest, even though I came up with ideas that I found reasonably satisfactory and implemented them in the story, emotionry continues to be a thorn in my side. Despite being in the final stages of editing, I spent time just this past week updating some of the terminology and emotionry designs used in book one. And though I'd love to say I am now confident I understand the concept fully and will never again rework my ideas or struggle to implement them in future books, I know it isn't true.

But, though there is still room for improvement, I hope that what I've written will be satisfying to readers (I suppose you'll be the judge of that!) and despite my momentary doubts, I am confident and pleased with the story I will soon be releasing into the world!

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