When I have a story to tell, it lives in my head for as long as it takes to be written. I’ve mentioned several times that my novel lived in the back of my mind for 20+ years before I wrote it. One of my more recent short stories came from a fragment of a dream I had when I was 17, that idea just simmering until I found the rest of it. I’ve got a whole series of short stories in my mind based on a single song that I first heard over ten years ago. An idea hibernates, it pupates, it whispers from the dark corners of the attic of my brain. But it never leaves until I finally give it words and form.

Something I learned very young though, was that it was dangerous to tell those ideas to anyone. People would ask me what I was writing about or what I might write next and I would tell them a very general idea of what it would be. If they were interested, I would be excited to talk about my ideas and explain them in whatever level of detail my audience desired.

And then I would never write that story.

I realized that the telling was the important bit. The stories want me to tell them, that’s the whole point of their existence. But they’re not picky about how I do it. Once they’re told, they don’t live in my mind anymore. They’re not whispering from that mental attic, asking me to let them out. They’re not pushing on my fingertips, making them itch until I sit down and type the words. They’re out in the world now, doing whatever it is stories do in their free time.

I only tell the story once, be it in written form with carefully thought-out words, or in a slapdash Q&A session with an interested friend. Once it’s told, my job is done and I’m finished with it. Realizing this, I stopped telling people my ideas. My friends and family can attest that I’ve been close-mouthed for years about what my novel was actually about, beyond very high-level descriptions. I can talk about it now because it’s finished. There’s no danger now that it will leave me and never be written (though I’m now tight-lipped about the next two books in the trilogy).

Obviously, I can edit my stories. The editing I’ve done isn’t anything story-breaking. I might change some phrasing, cut out some extraneous words, but the the shape of the story itself is unchanged. I’ve written before about my struggles with editing and one of the issues with writing drafts was that after I wrote the first one, I’m done. The story is told and I leave it be.

This tendency is proving to be a hurdle. I’ve done all the line edits, all the quick cuts and corrections that I can in my book. It’s time for the real work now; cutting out entire scenes that don’t need to be there, rewriting others that have a good purpose but aren’t quite working the way I want them to. In rewriting the beginning of the book, I’m trying to make my main character go through some events in a different order and do some things she didn’t do the first time around.

And holy hell, is she fighting me on this. Every word is a struggle. Every footstep I redirect is dragged and petulant. The story has been told already and it, the characters and my brain all want me to leave it be and move on to something else. They have no interest in exploring how else we might accomplish this.

One might ask why I don’t just leave it alone. If the story is fighting me so hard maybe it’s the way it’s supposed to be. All I can say to that is a lot of the changes my alpha readers have suggested just feel right. Things do need to be moved around and things do need to be cut. I trust my instincts on this.

It feels like I’m redirecting a river. It can be done, but the river has flowed in this channel for a long time and it’s easy for it to continue doing so. I have to dig a new channel for each bend I want to redirect, while I slowly build up rocks and earth to block it from the established course. The river pushes on those new barriers, finding weak points and trying to move into the easy, existing bend. You can’t reassure a river that the new channel will work just as well. It will just do what it does and you have to hope the changes you’re making will eventually all line up into something coherent. It’ll be the same river, the course it takes just shifts a bit.

This wouldn’t be an easy task at the best of times, so with my current energy struggles it’s feeling like a very daunting task. I’ll dig this new riverbed one shovelful of dirt at a time, I guess.

2 thoughts on “Redirecting A River

  1. Rio

    Wow. Right?
    Writing is so hard. I like how you described digging a channel for each new bend to redirect the course of your story.
    I have recently imposed a ratio, 1:2:1 and have drawn the lines for Beginning, Middle, End as an arbitrary template to see if, despite my characters compelling personality, etcetera, I can break her dominance over the book and tell the actual story I want to tell.
    The weird thing is, while she is in no way living anything similar to my mother’s life, her personality is very similar. So, here I am, trying to escape my mother’s grip? eww
    Yeah. Maybe i should start a new book.

  2. Erin

    Or maybe you continue writing this book and break that grip? It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. I’m still struggling with the rewrite I described in this post and it’s been two more weeks.
    I think all we can do is try and trust our instincts, and trust the story. Good luck, Rio!

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