Harriet Hale · muse · writing advice

The Art of Not Writing

I’ve not written a word of fiction in a week, maybe two. I’m not discouraged – I’ve never felt better. I’m not blocked – the ideas are clattering around in my head. It’s not even self-doubt, which I’ve been known to have in buckets. I’m at a fork in the road.

I have a story to repair. There are three ways to go.

1. I can walk away from it.
2. I can overhaul it.
3. I can leave it the way it is.

I can’t walk away from it. I’ve tried more than once.

My nature is to find the correct textbook lesson or workshop to unlock the door and find the solution. I spent a whole weekend rearranging scenes and looking for answers. I found details, but I lost the soul of the story I wanted to tell.

Then I stopped writing and started reading – not textbooks and blog posts but novels. I found new authors and new characters and read until my eyes scratched. Fiction became fun again, but this time I looked at craft as well as story: pacing, character development, plot, romantic suspense. What kept me turning pages? What kept me up late?

I listened to new music and shopped at different stores. I spent time from behind my keyboard with my family and my friends.

My time away let me enjoy spring, Ben and Jerry’s Core Flavors Ice Cream, and going to bed early. It gave me new details. I don’t want to show readers memories — “this is what I remember of life before I became a writer.” It needs to be experiences. I can’t do that if I never have any new experiences. I’ve also learned characters, not necessarily situations, bring me to stories and keep me reading.

I quit hammering at the “broken” story . . . and realized it’s not as broken as I thought it was. The pacing is off slightly, and my word choice could be better in places. I’ve lived with new scenes for a few weeks to see if they’ll make the story richer. I’ve looked at where I’d have to add them and what I’d have to change.

So the story won’t stay the way it was either, not exactly.

Over there is a winding path spotted with dogwoods and redbuds under a larger canopy of hardwood trees that are the hazy green of early spring.

It took a break for me to see that path.

HarrietGet outside this month, even if you have to take Zyrtec to do it.  Have an adventure!


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