So... What Does Actually Happen Next?
(Don’t worry, you’ll understand the photo in a moment.)
It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves. Probably staring at the blinking cursor, wondering what the gods need sacrificed in order to get the smug bastard moving again. A little wine? An entire cow? No worries, just let me grab the broadsword and I’ll be writing again before you can say ‘moo. (See The Best Kind of Ideas for context on this rather concerning joke.)
That aside, I swear, sometimes the damn thing knows. Watching us as we slowly drift closer and closer to some chaotic brink or other, waiting to see just how long we can stand it’s perennial and derisive blinking before going out back to start on our own graves. I mean, I know it’s just a damn line, but if it were a person, I’m like 80 percent sure I’d try to murder it.
Probably with a sword.
Then again though, that’s kinda how I met my wife…
But enough on cursors.
There comes a time when all writers realize - you can put down the phone, I’m not actually married - that a huge part of writing is half wondering and half panicking about what the hell happens next. And I know sometimes it’s downright frightening. We as a people (writers that is) have the tendency to question ourselves to the point where we can convince ourselves the entire story would better serve as kindling. It’s a phenomenon all writers have to experience at least ten thousand times, and then some.
It’s heartbreaking, really.
Eager like a child on it’s first day of school, flipping back to page one, excited to reread that killer opening better than any other you’d ever written. Only though to come close to a psychotic break so severe you were somehow convinced cleaving a cow in half was the way forward.
Exactly like the school child.
For those that survive this experience I’ve cleverly named the ‘cow-conundrum,’ the aftermath is almost as bad as the momentary dip into insanity. We can’t help but look at the work in it’s entirety and wonder why the paper itself didn't just vomit, curl up, give us the finger, and die.
Yeah, sometimes it really is that bad.
And in those dark moments the questions strike. What in the name of all partially-cleaved cows do I do next? (Yes, I’m aware my jokes are increasingly disturbing.)
Well, the answer to that question is not one that always comes so easily. In fact, there’s generally a copious amount of narcotics and arson involved.
I’ll do my best to set you upon the high road.
The answer begins with reflection. Ask yourself what you intended to do from the beginning. Does that idea still seem at all reasonable? Or would you rather eat a live shark? (Which is not easy, believe me.) If your answer was the wriggling oversized fish, than you need to do some rethinking.
*Shutters, looks out over herd of cows, sizes one up, looks to sword leaning against chair.*
Here are some words to live by. Words so important to me, I’ve had them tattooed on my son’s scalp.
Scrap everything that does not advance the story.
Simple advice, but perhaps one day it will save your life.
“Parachute? No need. I’ve got THE words, man.”
And stop screaming, I don’t really have a child.
(If I did though, I’d probably name it Gotham, just as I expect all you to.)
Is the way forward any clearer now though?
Well, go try the cow thing. Generally I find some moderate success with the one clean swipe method.
Did it work?
Side note - anyone wonder what moderate success looked like?
*Gasps of outraged shock.*
Forgive me, I’ve not slept in several years.
Anyway, clean yourself up, and let’s take a look then at your latest chapter.
The way forward may seem buried under countless hours of one-sided conversation / screaming with / at a cursor, but what if I told you there was an easier way? What if I told you there was, in fact, a blissfully simple solution?
There’s this wonderful substance by the name of cocain-
Where in the absolute hell was that going?
Gosh darn, told myself I wouldn't do that again!
‘Cause we all know how well that went last time… (See How To Stay Creative for context on this, yet again, increasingly worrying joke.)
No, the solution is not in powdered form. Taking your narrative’s next turn is not something you can do so blindly. In fact, a blinded turn can completely ruin your months, perhaps even years, of work and effort in one deadly swift swipe of the pen. It’s not always an unfixable mistake, but it honest and truly can be. It’s important to remember that writing is like building a human pyramid. You can’t really go back and remove too many of the beginning supporters without turning the whole thing into one big pile of screaming jelly.
Side note again - these jokes are getting out of hand, I know, I’ll stop soon. I promise.
(See why I’m crazy here.)
So how then to fix what seems so cruelly unfixable? How to find the oh-so-beautiful words again when you can’t even find the outdoors?
Yeah, I know, but apparently it’s a real place or something.
Well, though it’s by no means the only means, this is what I’ve had the greatest success with. For the most part, any notes and structure I keep aside my stories are quite bare. I really only ever use them when I realize I’ve completely forgotten something, but can’t quite remember what. (Usually I lose my sword.)
But even though relatively useless otherwise, I find the notes come in handy here. They display just the right amount of the story’s history to show all the wild directions I think it could go.
And by then I remember that my sword’s stuck in some cow or other.
I’m not even sorry anymore.
So, to the big question, what does happen next?
The very anti-climatic answer is that I don't think there is a right or wrong answer.
Who the hell does this guy think he is, eh?
All this time talking about cows only to say ‘there’s no wrong answer.’
Well, stop sharpening your swords a moment because it’s true.
There’s wasteful answers, sure, but even then I think it’s all a part of the learning curb. The ultimate reality is that you shouldn’t force yourself to write something you can’t even stand as your writing it. Writer’s block really is awful, but if you’re so very truly stuck that you’ve considered switching places with the cows, the hard truth may be that it’s time to take a break.
But hey, chin up my friends!
Maybe you’ll find that right combination of whiskey, psychedelics and sword fighting! Maybe you will see the light and live to be disappointed in your work another day!
(Damn. I know, I really am sorry. But you’ve got to admit I’m just on fire today.)
Who knows in this world, right?
A writer’s life is, after-all, just one very long and very drunk game of wondering what the hell comes next.
Stay classy people.
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