I want progress. I want to move forward. I want to be better–as a human, as a writer of stories, as a rock climber, as a communicator. In everything, I want to learn and grow. But the thing I’ve discovered about progress is that it’s not as linear as I once thought. I don’t just move forward, step by step, onwards and upwards. More often than not, the best way forward is to go back.
When it comes to my writing, progress is paramount. I would love to hit Stephen King’s 2000 words a day. I would love to hit my own goal of 3 chapters a week. Setting goals and hitting them, measuring my progress, seeing how far I’ve come…I want all of it.
But then I’ll hit a point where I try to go forward, and I just… can’t. I try a chapter, it feels wrong, and I discard it. I try again, from a different angle, a different starting point, hell, even a different character POV, and again I have to discard it, because it still doesn’t feel right. And yet I keep plugging away, trying to force this square peg into that pesky round hole, trying to get that word count up and up and up.
I did a whole draft of my book like that. I got to the end, wrote some of the last scenes, and boom! I could tell people I had completed the draft. And yet it felt horrible, because those last twenty chapters were square peg round hole chapters. I didn’t write what was right – I had written just to make progress. And you know where those chapters are now? Yup. They’re in the trash. All of them.
This draft is 99% done. I’m finishing a quick polish, and then writing 3 interlude scenes, and then it’s DONE. That feels awesome. It’s also about 8 months later than I intended it to be. But this go round, when I hit those chapters that weren’t right, I didn’t try to force the ill-fitting peg into the hole. Instead, I took the time, knowing that I might not get any new words that day, and instead I tried to figure out what really needed to be done. And that involved going back, to tweak what came before, and take a hard look at my characters and their motivations, and get everything in their heads (and hearts) right in order to figure out how to move the plot forward. The only way to progress forward was to go back.
I could sit here and tell you just how much this idea of ‘going back in order to go forward’ applies to other aspects of my life. I won’t, because neither of us has all day. But it does apply. And for me, it’s taken the conscious choice of deliberately taking the time, sometimes an excruciating, undesirable amount of time, to choose quality over speedy quantity.