Good Problems Take Time

It’s funny, writing these posts. They keep coinciding with my deadlines. I’ve just turned in my first round of edits to my editor. Which, let me tell you, always feels like such a win. There’s something about that first draft—about looking at a manuscript so filled with problems that you stare at and try desperately to find solutions— that can be so heartbreaking and demoralizing at the same time.

I wrote this? That slithering voice in your brain asks you. The one that’s never kind and the one that’s always asking you rhetorical questions as a way of putting you down. Maybe I’m alone with this voice and that’s alright, too. I know my own inner demons well by this point.

So there you are, staring at your first draft. Wondering why it’s so filled with problems and plot holes, why the characters aren’t leaping off of the page, wondering why you haven’t figured out how to perfectly say exactly what this book is about yet.  And if you’re me, all you can think really is how you put yourself in this position by writing a first draft with So Many Problems.

“All I can see are problems,” I told my partner one night. “And I can’t even half-solve them.”

“Good,” he said.

“Good?” I asked, quite incredulous and also very, very miffed.

“Yes,” he said, about to drop some knowledge on me. “If you could solve them easily, you wouldn’t have written very interesting problems. I’d be worried for you and your work if you solved them in one draft.”

Reader, I just about keeled over and died. Or at least my ego did.

He’s right of course. Annoyingly, in that way that all true and necessary advice is typically the thing you never want to hear. Good problems are hard to solve. If you— or I— could solve them easily in our writing, someone would have likely already done it and we would have already read it.

We write about the problems we’re working through in real time (or at least, again, I do). As a reader, fictions is often my space to play, to learn, and to grow. As a writer, that’s doubly true. I’m always trying to work through problems I don’t quite have a grasp on. Ideas that I’ve yet to come up with a solution for. They’re questions with no answer. Problems with no solution. Vague ideas rather than fully fleshed out themes.

And if you’ve done your job properly, they will not be solved in one round. Often not solved in two. Great ideas are layered. Great problems don’t have simple solutions. In fiction, we’re playing with points of view, with storyline, with character, and even with narrators.

So at the end of the day, you’ve got to give yourself the time to work through whatever you’ve been layering into your own fiction. You’ve got to give yourself permission and give yourself space to take time with the work. As long as you keep showing up to the work, it will be done, I promise. Don’t rush what on it’s own timeline anyway.

The work will be better for it. You will be much less angsty for it. And if you ever need a reminder, this post is here to tell you that good problems take time to solve.

6 Responses to Good Problems Take Time

  1. Avatar
    Linda W. Jul 17 2019 at 8:37 am #

    I needed this post. I’d been kicking myself about the problems I have yet to solve in my WIP. I appreciate the wisdom of your partner.

    • Aminah Mae
      Aminah Mae Jul 17 2019 at 12:51 pm #

      oh I’m so glad this helps! Sometimes problems just take time– that doesn’t mean anything is wrong!!

  2. Avatar
    Chris Jul 17 2019 at 8:38 am #

    Thank you for the reminder! The satisfaction from writing fiction is the complexity. If it were an easy puzzle to solve, it wouldn’t hold our attention.

    • Aminah Mae
      Aminah Mae Jul 17 2019 at 12:51 pm #

      yes that is it exactly! satisfying problems take time to unwind both as an author and as a reader 💜

  3. Avatar
    Marc Vun Kannon Jul 17 2019 at 8:57 am #

    The trick with problems is usually defining them properly. Once you understand them, they’re mostly solved already. Let the character spend most of the book trying to figure out what the problem even is. A lot of simple problems appear intractable until they’re looked at from that one direction.

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