RoE.d1.day68-77 – the power of distraction (or remembering how to see by looking away)

okay, so it’s actually been a bit more than a few days since i last posted progress on “Running on Empty”.* i have not been idle, however. while it’s true that the aforementioned query work essentially consumed the last few days, i was actually quite productive prior to that, though i had let the blogging slide.

today, with the queries out and the college on spring break, i was able to get back to RoE, starting with a couple strong pages after my morning run, followed by a few more pages later on.

unfortunately, the last couple pages are filled with more cross-outs and scribbles than actual writing.** i was against a wall. the end is mere pages away and yet i couldn’t seem to get the words out. over and over i tried to approach the scene, but over and over i ground to a halt because i was forcing the characters or getting lost on tangents or some such other problem.

why? because i didn’t plan the ending. my outline reached all the way up to, but did not include, the final scene. i knew essentially what had to happen and who would be involved, but i hadn’t been able to identify the particulars despite all my outlining. finally, i just started writing and decided to take the risk.

well, here i was, 241 pages and 77 writing days later, and i still hadn’t figured it out.

i’d managed to pick up a number of pieces along the way, most of which i could not have planned if i wanted to. still, the whole was incomplete. after wrestling with it for probably too long, i realized that it came down to the fact that i was stuck between two possibilities:

  • ending the story where it was, where i had initially thought it was going to end, though i was still unsatisfied with the anti-climactic-feeling scene that currently existed, in hopes that i would discover what was not quite right about it during revision, or
  • letting the story run along one of the unexpected tangents i’d started, which opened the door on a further series of events that held the promise of a more exciting ending

try as i might, i truly couldn’t figure out which was the better course.

when my wife came home, i was still no better off and i harangued her, as usual, with my plight. she listened patiently until i had spun myself out, then proposed a distraction.

i tell it to my students all the time: when you’re stuck, walk away, get some exercise, work in the garden***, whatever, just do something else entirely and let your subconscious do the heavy lifting for a while.

it is quite humbling to be reminded to take one’s own advice, and the more valuable for it.

because after i finally stopped looking or the answer, i found it. what’s more, my instincts had been right; i had reached the end and the tangent was a mirage, nothing more. there are a couple of key changes to make, of course, but i had been looking so hard for what was wrong, that i wasn’t seeing what was right.

* 10, to be exact

** okay, yes, my so-called ‘actual writing’ is not terribly distinguishable from scribbling, but that’s not the point.

*** i love winter, but it’s spring, right? somewhere?