One Terrific Lie


This has been a lacklustre week in terms of productivity for a variety of reasons. One is just general busyness in everyday life – something I’m sure every writer has to navigate. There’s always work, household responsibilities, social obligations, and the list goes on.

I always try to put some time aside every night to write, because I do believe writing – if you’re to be successful in finishing anything you begin – is about two things: routine and momentum. You build momentum, the writing comes easier – you think more about your story, possibilities start occurring to you, you look forward to getting back to it.

You don’t build momentum and it becomes an ever-slowing grinding – you don’t know where to go, you constantly have to reread things to familiarise yourself with what you were doing, and there’s less desire to get back to it.

The other reason the last week hasn’t been as productive as I would’ve liked is that I got to a part where I was really feeling my way through the story. I know what I want to do, and I know of a number of key elements that occur in the story but, sometimes, connecting the dots isn’t easy. A few times I’ve had to stop for research about situations I’ve never encountered before. In one case, this meant getting blind drunk and being arrested for drunk and disorderly to experience for real part of what I wanted to write about.

Another scene in particular plagued me. The protagonist is in hospital, talks to a nurse, and then to a doctor. It took me a couple of days to write those scenes – a scene a day. And, independently, I think each scene worked well. I liked the characters, I liked the interplay, I liked the way the scenes unfolded. But then, as I lay in bed I started wondering: do I really need both scenes?

Each scene had key elements that were required to drive the story, but it started to feel as if I was doubling up and, also, that these scenes were overlapping in terms of their necessity. On top of all that, the second scene began to feel a little bit unrealistic, that information had been delivered in the first scene that should’ve changed the way events unfolded – surely, after what he’s just learned, the protagonist wouldn’t be sitting still to chat to a doctor.

So I spent two days chopping the scenes and cannibalising them into one scene – just the scene with the doctor. The nurse is still there, but only peripherally. Giving some of what he did over to the doctor also required deft shuffling – or what’s known in playing-card parlance as a dovetail shuffle: that’s when you hold half a deck in each hand, then use each thumb to flick each halve so that they interleave into one deck.

Once I was satisfied – and it took a long, long time before I was sure I’d nailed it enough that I could go on – I decided to reread the new whole scene … only to find that a whole paragraph repeated in a different area. That had to be chopped and the edges (above and below it) trimmed so that they could marry seamlessly. And then I had to reread it all over.

It’s amazing that this one scene took half a week, but often it’s going the wrong way – as I’d done originally – that reveals the right way.

Well, at least it’s the right way in my mind. So far. There’s always the chance that as I write, the story will develop in a way that necessitates I go back and revise or restructure any given scene.

But that is writing.

Last Week’s Lie: I wrote last week that a journal rejected a short story I wrote, emailed me back several days later to say they actually would accept it, then emailed me a week later to say, no, they would be rejecting it after all. Nope. That didn’t happen … to me. A very credible and big journal did this to a friend.

Postscript: From hereon due to other commitments, this blog will be appearing on Wednesdays.