Writing in the Present

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Sometimes I get overwhelmed by just the idea of writing a novel.

How many words?!

Honestly, I get spooked writing a short story that’s more than 10,000 words. Ask my writers group. They’ll tell you.

My fear comes from not knowing the whole story. I’ll have a beginning scene and a rough idea where I’m heading but not know how to get there. Or I’ll have a single scene in my mind and very little info on who this character is and why he’s doing what he’s doing.

It’s a bit like being told to drive to a city you’ve never been to before, find a person you don’t know and tell him a message you don’t really understand. Here are the keys. Go.

Yikes. So many words to write, and no idea what they are or where they lead.

I know the key to writing is, you know, writing. So I sit my butt in the chair and I write what I do know about the story. Still, sometimes as I’m writing, my brain will start fretting about the stuff I don’t know.

What about the middle? Who is this bad guy and why is he doing these things? Where is all of this leading?!

The thing about fear — for me at least — is it can be paralyzing. It can make me stop writing. And stopping is bad.

Lately I’ve been practising a new way of keeping fear at bay.

Stay in the present.

I live a better life when I’m focused on the present. When I’m immersed in the now instead of letting my mind fret about the future or the past.

What’s true for living is true for writing.

I write better when I’m focused on the present scene, the scene I know. When I’m immersed in that scene, rather than worrying about not knowing the middle or end or even the beginning.

And just like living, writing in the present takes practice and discipline. My thoughts start to scatter and I reel them back in. Again and again.

The key is to slow down until the characters and setting and interactions become real and solidified in my mind.

As I do this, that present scene triggers ideas for other scenes. And as I stay with those new scenes, I discover still more and more of the story. The chapters stack up. The word count increases.

Sometimes the scenes come to me out-of-order. Ending first, then something from the middle, then second to last and then the beginning, etc. I’ve learned to let that go and just write what I can see.

I just trust that, in time, all of those scenes will chain themselves together into an entire story.

A short story.

A novella.

A novel.

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5 thoughts on “Writing in the Present

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mardou Ledger, Amy K. Nichols. Amy K. Nichols said: What living in the now has taught me about writing: http://wp.me/pBmxU-kk #writing #amwriting #writetips […]

    Lua said:
    June 22, 2010 at 12:38 am

    Two years ago, when I was writing short stories no longer than 5-6000 words, writing a novel was an idea I avoided carefully! The idea of working on a story that was at least 90000 words long, for more than a year… Let’s just say I didn’t even think this was something I could consider doing 🙂

    Right now, what I do is outlining… I write a detailed outline for every chapter, and a detailed character profiles so I know where I was, where I am and where I’m headed next. I know some amazing writers who have no idea what’s going to happen next in their stories, they just write and find out and they do an amazing job! So I guess it’s about finding the method that works for you 🙂

      Amy K. Nichols said:
      June 22, 2010 at 8:47 am

      You’re totally right, Lua. I’ve met a lot of authors who do extensive outlining. James A. Owen showed me his outline work. It is incredible, with thumbnail sketches and detailed plot points. Though I’m definitely more of a “pantser”, I’m trying to use an outline with my WiP. Even with one, though, I’m finding I know my MC is going to meet so-and-so when I reach chapter X, but still don’t know all the details or implications until I immerse myself in the scenes. And then I end up modifying the outline. So yes, it is absolutely about finding what works for you.

      Thank you for commenting! 🙂

    Lisa Nowak said:
    June 23, 2010 at 9:38 am

    Word count has never really scared me, but I do get intimidated by the idea of where the story’s going to go. As an outliner, this happens before I start the first draft, before I’ve invested a lot of time. It think that helps immensely in eliminating the stress. Right now I’m working on the outline for a new book, and I’m trying to figure out my “bad guy”. I love complicated characters, so I’m trying to figure out how to make him honorable while still making him a jerk. And I have no ideas. Ack!

    But what you talked about, being in the moment, is very important in so many ways. We can’t live anywhere but now.

    amanda said:
    June 24, 2010 at 7:56 am

    I also use the method of staying focused in the present, Amy — chapter by chapter, and often out of order. Setting smaller markers makes the overall goal seem (somewhat) reachable. Good luck!

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