Nancy: Closing Doors, Opening Windows

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I was speaking with a friend  recently about Life Stuff. As sometimes happens during these types of conversations, we talked about the idea that when a door closes, another one opens. And if there is no other door, we hope we can at least find a window. A few days later, as I was skimming through my WIP, trying to get back in touch with where I’d left off on revisions to deal with Life Stuff, I remembered that conversation and realized that in a sense, the McDaniel writing program and the craft lessons we learned forced all of us to close some doors on our writing of the past.

In some cases, it’s easy to see that this is a good thing. As much as all of us struggle with applying the concept, realizing the importance of giving our characters goals, and positive ones at that, has been an important lesson that many of us circle back to again and again as we revise our WIPs. But other lessons, like treating every scene as a unit of conflict, are at times elusive and at other times just plain intrusive upon the creative process. I’m sure every one of us could point to lessons we learned that have clicked for us and that make us now wonder how we ever wrote without such knowledge. But we could also point to lessons that have become stumbling blocks in our forward progress. Then, to make matters worse, when we try to return to the familiar, the way we used to do things, that doesn’t work either. That door is now closed and deadbolted behind us.

Right now, the problems I’m facing in my WIP deals with subplots. With three protagonists each with their own main storylines, I have subplots upon subplots. The trick is making them all work together, echoing or reversing or complicating the main plot, oh my! There are days when I just want to let my little subplots grow wild and free, not tethered by the demands of that greedy main plot running straight through the center of the story. But I know better now and I just can’t do it. The new, crafty way doesn’t work. The old, undisciplined way is locked behind a steel door.

But life is a journey, and writing is a process, and I am going to get through this tough patch. I’m busily looking for the next door or at least the window I can use as an escape hatch. Some day, I’m going to get this WIP and all its wayward subplots tamed. And then it will be a wondrous thing of beauty. I would call it A Breathtaking Work of Staggering Genius, but Dave Eggers might take issue with that. But the book will be finished, and while it will never be perfect or what I envisioned in my head, some day it will be good enough to see the light of day.

Talk to me about your WIP, and your trials and tribulations and triumphs with it! What doors have closed in your writing  as you’ve learned more about craft? What crafty stumbling blocks have you overcome?

11 thoughts on “Nancy: Closing Doors, Opening Windows

  1. I’m kind of stuck in the middle of a few things. I am blocked with my first book, but I feel like I can’t do anything with my third book (let alone my new and enticing fourth book that is waiting to be put down into a first draft) until I get some work done on the first book.

    I need a major attitude adjustment. I can see how I need to be adjusted, but when it comes to bringing out the wrench and twisting, I balk.

    I think a lot of writers hit that spot where every choice is just a hard, stuck choice. I think Anne Lamott may have talked about it in Bird by Bird. But, keep jimmying at those windows and bashing at the locks of the doors. Something has to give sometime.

  2. Nancy, I know exactly what you mean! I said to Justine and Kat on an email a couple of days ago that writing was so much easier Before McD, when I didn’t know what a scene should do, I just wrote what was in my head.

    I’m working through my re-write, and I’m amazed by how much my writing has changed since I wrote that first draft. It’s not bad, I just wouldn’t write it that way any more and as you say, there’s no turning back. I’m almost writing a new book with the same characters and setting, and because my expectations are so much higher it’s taking me much longer. It’s frustrating and positive at the same time. Right now I’m just inching my way along the corridor and hoping/believing there will be a door at the end of it :-)

    • Even without a formal course (amazing how much you can learn just from blogs!), my writing has changed massively since I started the first draft of my WIP at the start of November (and that was a big leap forward since I wrote the first draft of my previous story which I finished in September – in fact, I decided to leave that one for the time being and not even revise it yet because I felt I had learned so much since starting it). I am in the same position as Jilly – rewriting more than redrafting, and going much more slowly for exactly the same reason: my expectations are so much higher now. There absolutely will be a door at the end of it:)

  3. Great post. Writing is such a changeable and evolving process, it’s amazing to look back on work I did just a few years ago compared to now. Though I’m hoping my writing is improving with all the things I have learned now :D

  4. Since class, I second-guess every scene. In the last scene I wrote, Phoebe pays the invoice that isn’t hers to smooth things over with the hero (that is, adjusting to the conflict in the relationship). When I was finished writing that scene, though, I thought, should she do that? If she doesn’t pay the invoice, both the antagonist and the hero will react. Is that better? I don’t know. I STILL don’t know.

    • For me, the question is, would she do that? If she would, she did, no matter whether it makes your life easier or harder :-)

      • Yes, Jilly, thank you. You rephrased that much better: would she? or wouldn’t she? I can see her going either way. At heart, she wants family (i.e., the hero). But she’s pursuing the antagonist, so she’d want to make things harder for him. Well, I’ll plunge on. Rewrites R us!

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