Derailed: writing caution

Once upon a time, DH and I made our way down south for a job interview.  While driving along, we came upon a very recent train derailment.  The damage was incredible.  Cars tipped over a football field off the track.  Cargo scattered across the ditch in ways that defied logic.

Thankfully the train troubles occurred outside of town and far enough off the road that nobody was injured.

Upon our return, the mess had been cleared away and we completely missed seeing the site of the accident.  Virtually all traces of the derailment were gone.  And while the train company must have dealt with extensive  and far-reaching damages, the casual observer would have missed the fact that twenty-four hours earlier, a near catastrophe had occurred.

Our writing is like a train track.  We have a story arc that begins in one station and ends in another.  Along the way, we transport our precious cargo.  We may make switches along the way, dropping off some cars and picking up others.  We may speed up and slow down for towns and bridge crossings, but we never stray from the track.

Unless, of course, we get derailed.

When this happens, we have  two choices: clean up the mess, pay out the damages and deliver our salvaged cargo or go back to the station and start our trek all over again.

Neither option is fun and both require a lot of work.  Critique partner and soon-to-be-pubbed, Calista Taylor, recognizes her risk for derailment and takes another set of tracks to ward off disaster.  When the writing gets tough and she’s “blocked” for longer than a week, she retraces her steps and finds out where she went wrong. 

With my current WIE (work in edit), I discovered yesterday (45 pages from the end) that I had failed to make a detour when I should have.  Instead of switching tracks, I steamed forward and missed out on adding some cargo to my train that will invariably make my novel much stronger and more intriguing.

While I didn’t totally derail, it was like I jumped the track.  I took a short cut and deprived my potential readers of the scenic route.

What do you do when  you find your story floundering?  When do you realize your writing has derailed and how do you fix it?  Do you automatically trunk a derailed manuscript or do you try to salvage what you can?

Curious minds want to know.


4 responses to “Derailed: writing caution

  1. At the moment, I’m revising the outline for my MIP. I tend to go back and forth between outline and writing my MIP but I’m learning the value of plotting more thoroughly. My MIP is going along okay, but I want to make sure I’ve got the course mapped out and am taking into consideration all the possibilities along the way.

    • Welcome, Sonia.

      Thanks for the comment and the subscription. I’m hoping to get my blogging on track next week–when summer starts in earnest–and will pop over to your blog.

      I’m always in awe over writers who outline. I’ve tried and can’t seem to figure it out. I think in many ways you have a leg up on us complete pantsters. Best luck with keeping your MIP (super cute, by the way) on track. You’ll have to keep us informed on when you reach the station!


  2. Love the post.

    I had a few “jumped tracks” with my last book. After the initial knot in the pit of my stomach, and the “I don’t want to fix this. It’s going to take forever!”, I’d think it through and just do it. It was never really as difficult and time consuming as I’d thought it would be.

    I’m actually just starting another novel. It’s been brewing in my head for a few days and today I’m going to get started on it. I like Calista’s advice about retracing steps when there’s a block. I’ll definitely keep that in mind this time around!

    • Dawne,

      Thanks for stopping in. As soon as I get my feet on the ground with my summer routine, I’ll hop on over to your blog. I really do appreciate your comment.

      I’m glad your last novel got back on track with less effort and pain than you anticipated. Sometimes I think that’s our trouble. We let ourselves get paralyzed by the undertaking, when, really, it’s not that bad. Not to mention, super fun to see the outcome of a stronger story.

      Cali is a talented writer with her wits about her. Her advice to backtrack during a writer’s block is spot on. It can save us a ton of trouble if we pay attention to our writing rhythms.


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