Wonky Beginnings and Permission to Fail

This post is actually re-post from my Misfits & Daydreamers newsletter. I apologize for the repeat content to those of you getting the newsletter, but since I’m wrestling with a new beginning now, this topic seemed rather pertinent at the moment.

Recently, I got this question in the Daydreamer forum:

I have a problem with starting projects as well as ending them. I get a very clear idea of the mood or atmosphere I want to convey, and when I’m not able to capture that mood when I begin my WIP, I tend to get depressed, start questioning myself and my idea, and chuck the project. I want to this WIP to have a strong start. How do you capture the mood you want for your projects? Do you ever have any problems similar to mine?

Fabulous question, and this is definitely an issue I wrestle with. Beginnings are ALWAYS hard for me. I have such a vivid feeling and sense of story, but then transferring that onto the page…UGH. With Truthwitch, that image and song above moved me SO much, yet it took me 3 different attempts at opening chapters before I finally hit the nail on the head. I wrote version 1, knew halfway in it was wrong, so I scrapped it and wrote version 2…But I still knew it was wrong, so I scrapped it too.

Then I mulled the story over for a few days—letting my subconscious work while I listened to epic music. THEN, I tried version 3, and kapow! That version felt right. Now, version 3 wasn’t perfect—not by a long shot. It wasn’t even good, but at least I knew I was on the right track story/plot-wise. Strange and Ever After took 2 false startsA Dawn Most Wicked took 2 completely wrong ENTIRE MANUSCRIPTS before I figured it out.

It’s so hard not to get frustrated when you know what you want isn’t what you’re putting down. But that’s the great thing about rewriting and revising. You can ALWAYS do it again. If you missed the mark and the story feels wrong, try again now. Or, if you missed the mark but can’t see what went astray, then power forward until you can see. You can always revise when you’ve finished the book (that’s what I do).

There’s a reason I talk about the Perfect Book in my revisions workshop. The Perfect Book is the VISION of what we wanted to tell—but it’s very rarely what we actually write down. When we revise, we try to reorganize, rewrite, cut, add, tighten, and always, always move closer toward that vision of the “Perfect Book.”

Sometimes the vision will change as you write. When I set out to write Something Strange & Deadly, I wanted to write a light, fun sort of gothic in the vein of Diana Wynne Jones. Um….YEAH. For those of you who’ve read the book, you know Diana Wynne Jones is definitely not what the story ended up as. I wrote the entire book in that DWJ style, and it was terrible and forced. So I ditched it, rewrote the whole thing more in the style of Garth Nix’s Lirael meets Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty, and suddenly things CLICKED. It was the same plot, the same characters, but the voice and storytelling style were much better suited to the dark content.

So here’s my advice: don’t worry about capturing the mood when you’re first starting. The mood might change as you draft. Get the story on the paper and know that you are 100% allowed to write crap. Everyone else does. 😉 You can revise the story later—once you’re a few chapters in or once you’re finished completely. Give yourself permission to write any and everything—no matter the quality—and you’ll be able to keep moving forward.

You tell me: how do YOU deal with wonky beginnings? Or do you even have this issue to begin with?

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5 Responses to Wonky Beginnings and Permission to Fail

  1. Laura May 20 2014 at 7:19 am #

    Thanks for a great post, Susan.

    Really a pertinent one for me, too, as I’m about 10,000 words into a first draft and I already know that most of it is complete rubbish and is all going to be rewritten. The hard part is telling myself that’s okay.

    To get past that I’m focussing on my plot and subplots. Anything else, like mood, voice and character, is all coming later.


  2. Amelia May 20 2014 at 9:51 am #

    Thanks Susan,

    Needed your pep talk this morning. Wrote a new chapter yesterday… of questionable quality… and was considering the next best step. I got a vision now. Yay!

  3. Julie May 20 2014 at 10:05 am #

    LOVE this post, Susan. I find that sometimes I’m “in the zone” and the words flow smoothly; other times, I have to force them onto the page kicking and screaming. It’s comforting to know we all feel that way sometimes.

  4. Jenny Bailey May 21 2014 at 10:35 am #

    This is so great. I’ve usually been fortunate in knowing exactly how to start and end a story (the middle is where I flounder BIG TIME) but with my current work in progress things have been completely different. I actually just ditched my first 5,000 words because they were not happening. It’s always encouraging to hear that other people go through the same process occasionally.

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