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Third time’s the charm?

So I’ve had this idea in my head off and on for about two years now.  The first time I tried to write it, the idea was too contrived and extremely heavy on back story, and I spent too much of my time trying to shoehorn everything into the shape I wanted it.  Obviously that isn’t the way to write a story, but I couldn’t get the first incarnation out of my head in order change it around, so I put it aside and started on something completely different.

A while later I decided to give it another try.  There was a lot less shoehorning that time around, but although the protagonist had the same basic background as the first time, the plot itself was much softer, leaning more toward cozy territory than I liked.  So I put it away a second time, knowing I’d be back at it sooner or later.

A couple of weeks ago I decided it was time to take another crack at it.  But this time I thought it might be a good idea to do a bit of an outline first.  That way, I can realize I’m on the wrong track before I write 20,000 words.  So now I’ve got my outline, which is very basic, and my main characters, which are the same characters that I started out with.  But this time I think I have a plot that fits.  It’s relatively simple, compared to the first one, and has almost no back story, but it’s got a much more dangerous feel to it than the second, which is what I was aiming for.

But now the doubt is creeping in, and I’ve started wondering if this is the right idea after all.  So, if there’s anyone out there who’s been in the same boat, I’d love to hear your take on this.  How do you know when the story you want to write is a good one?  Is it just a gut feeling?  Do you take it on faith?  Or do you just not worry about that and write the story anyway?

11 Responses Subscribe to comments

  1. Ian Rogers

    Timing definitely plays a big part. I have a few stories that I have in my head, or in notes, that I haven’t written yet, because the time isn’t right. You can’t force it. It’ll come when it wants to.

    Sep 04, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

  2. Shayne

    I’ve heard that before, and I know you’re probably right, but that doesn’t sound terribly conducive to being able to write on a regular schedule the way the big name authors do. Do you suppose it gets easier with practice? Or are we simply victims of our muses, or lack thereof?

    Sep 04, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

  3. Ian Rogers

    I think as long as you’re writing something on your schedule that’s all that matters. I may not work on the same project every single time I sit down to write, but as long as I pump out my set number of words, I still feel productive. And yes, it does come easier with practice. It turns into a routine. I think people who have no desire to do it full time can rely on the whim of their muses. The rest of us working class authors have to work on a schedule. :)

    Sep 04, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

  4. Shayne

    I’m glad to hear there’s someone else out there who doesn’t work on the same project every day. I was starting to feel like I was doing something wrong.

    What is your set number of words? I try to aim for 1,000 every day, but sometimes the words just aren’t coming, and I miss the mark.

    I realize that this might be a scandalous thing for a writer to say, but I have to admit, despite having been the one to bring the subject up, I really hate the word muse. To me, it implies that writing is way easier than it really is – for me at least – because all we writers have to do is sit around and wait for some little sprite to come along and whisper the story in our ear, and then we just copy it down like little stenographers taking dictation. For me, writing is more like Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith described it: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

    Sep 05, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  5. Ian Rogers

    My daily output is set at 600 words, but I almost always pump out more than that. I figure 600 words (about three pages) is small enough to not be daunting if I’m really not in the mood, whereas if it was higher I might not bother if I was too tired or whatever. My brain reasons, Well, it’s only 600 words, and then I sit down and end up writing a thousand or more. But even with 600 words a day it adds up to 4,200 words a week, 18,000 words a month. Nothing to sneeze at. My 12,000-word story, “The Dark and the Young,” that appeared in Bound for Evil was written in one day. Sometimes I have bursts likes that.

    I also hate the word muse. I think it’s a word used mostly by hobby writers who think the craft of writing is all about affectations. Fancy notebooks with their name in gilt on the cover. Expensive fountain pens. Book jacket photos in which they’re touching their chin thoughtfully. It’s all part of the romanticism that the public thinks of when it comes to writers. I don’t have a muse. The closest thing I have is my ideal reader, which is my wife, because I know she’ll read anything I write and give me an honest opinion. The concept of a muse is a bit too artsy and pretentious for me.

    Sep 05, 2008 @ 11:29 am

  6. Shayne

    Damn, I wish I had bursts like that. I think 4,000 in a day has been my best so far, but hopefully I’ll be able to do better than that as I get more confidence. I really need to learn how to tell my inner editor to shut up. In the mean time, maybe I’ll start aiming for 600 words a day as well. It does seem a lot less daunting than 1,000, so maybe that will help.

    Book jacket photos in which they’re touching their chin thoughtfully.

    That made me laugh out loud, literally.

    And I don’t have a muse, either. I have friends who will kick my ass until I get it right.

    Sep 05, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  7. Ian Rogers

    I think it will help. If you find you’re pumping out more than that, then you can think about pushing your daily limit back to 1,000.

    I shall have to apply to be one of those friends who can kick your ass until you get your stories right. Although what I’ve seen so far is great. :)

    Sep 05, 2008 @ 5:26 pm

  8. Shayne

    Starting now, I’m aiming for 600 words a day.

    You can definitely be one of my ass-kicking friends. :) And thank you for the kind words. Both kind words and ass-kicking are always much appreciated.

    Sep 06, 2008 @ 10:07 am

  9. Tiffany Maxwell

    I suck and have not commented in this journal so far. Every time I read your journal entries which are actually intelligent and thoughtful, I try and plan out a similarly insightful response in my head, then see all the other amazing responses, and feel about three inches high in such virtual company.

    So, in the spirit of making some sort of contribution, here is the most intelligent response I could come up with:

    Oo, ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang

    Oo, ee, oo ah ah, ting tang, walla walla bing bang!

    (ad infinitum)

    Sep 18, 2008 @ 10:18 am

  10. Tiffany Maxwell

    Oops, stupid punctuation. There should be a comma between “entries” and “which” in the second sentence of my comment, the implication being, “Your journal entries are intelligent and thoughtful, unlike mine” rather than, “Only some of your journal entries are intelligent and thoughtful”.

    Don’t worry, you can still call me an asshole.

    Sep 18, 2008 @ 11:49 am

  11. Shayne

    I would, if only I could stop laughing.

    Sep 18, 2008 @ 11:54 am