Is challenging better?


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Thread: Is challenging better?

  1. #1

    Is challenging better?

    Do you notice a difference in the quality of your work that's difficult to write versus easy? Some stories that I start basically write themselves. And I'm not talking about a well-planned story versus a seat-of-the-pants one. However you like to write, when I say "easy," I mean the words just flow from start to finish. These stories are like waterfalls, just gushing onto the page the second you sit down to write, and by the time you come up for air, the first draft is done.

    For me, sometimes these turn out to be good stories. I've definitely gotten some gems, but I've also gotten a heaping pile of word garbage. Sometimes it's fixable with revision; other times it's just not a good enough story to go that extra mile with. And, if I'm being honest, probably more often than not, the result is some amount of garbage. I rarely get a solid first draft out of easy writing.

    Other times though, even if you have every scene planned in advance, the writing is like walking through sludge. You've gotta slog your way through each sentence and paragraph, hoping that you don't run out of stamina or completely lose the will to keep going. These ones are tough. However, for me at least, I'm pretty consistent with getting solid stories out of the slogging. Not always, and of course there's always some amount of editing required, but I know if I can just finish the damn thing, it'll probably be worth the struggle. It's sometimes a pretty big "if" though.

    Case in point, I'm about 3000 words into a solidly literary story with zero speculative elements at all (a first for me in awhile), and I am just so bogged down by it that after spending the last two hours fighting my way through writing another 500 words or so, I had to take a break. Some of it is probably due to tackling some heavy themes and the slow build I've been trying to cultivate, but most of it is just that this one is hard.

    Does anybody else find that the hard ones are generally better than the easy ones? Or do y'all just write fire all the time?
    "A word after a word after a word is power."
    -Margaret Atwood

  2. #2
    I write fire with the purpose of keeping the reader interested. I go back later to give them the divinity of heaven and hell, or maybe enlightenment... yes enlightenment comes later.

  3. #3
    Hey Tia,

    I have the same struggle, in which some stories seem to just tumble out easily, while others really strain my brain. For me, it's a combination of many things (energy levels, mood, complexity of the story, how "fleshed out" the idea already is, etc...).

    Though, I'm not sure if the difficult stories are always my better ones. I actually find the opposite: that the easy stories are often (but not always) stronger. For me, I'd say it comes down to enthusiasm/excitement. With the "easy" stories, I can ride that motivation while I write. With the more difficult slogs, on the other hand, my enjoyment suffers, and it starts to show in the writing.

    I can see how you'd find opposite results, though. I think a lot comes down to personality types. Some creative people really thrive when the task becomes difficult/challenging. Maybe you're one of those! Me, though? When the task gets tough, I'm more like a dainty flower in the sun: I just start to wilt. Lol.

  4. #4
    I agree with Kyle that a lot of the time this is a 'writer problem' not a 'story problem' that can, and hopefully will, be corrected through simple adjustments outside of writing. I am going through something similar with my new project. It's a bit of 'second novel syndrome' (though I have written multiple novels now) in the sense I have been so invested into a single project I'm kind of burned out. I see that as a problem that will, hopefully, self-correct with time.

    But let's say there's nothing outside that could be affecting engagement. That's obviously trickier...

    I've come to believe that a lot of the time we don't pick the stories, that the stories pick us. Not to say we are helpless or anything, but that sometimes we can have a really good idea that just doesn't flourish when we go to try to write the thing.

    I call this 'other people's clothes' syndrome. You ever tried on a sweater or a pair of pants that fit perfectly in every definable way but that just didn't feel quite right? I get that a lot in writing. Sometimes I'll have a story that seems basically oven ready so far as I know exactly what needs to be done and *could* write it but...I just don't want to. I can't get passionate about it, every word becomes pulling teeth. It's extremely frustrating when it seems like it should just be there but for some reason I can't motivate.

    There's really two options with that, I think. Either (1) You write it or (2) You don't. Sounds obvious, but it can be a really tough choice, especially when the temptation is to just leave it aside and go for some shiny other thing. The problem with putting it aside is these things tend to come in batches. Once you allow yourself to put things aside just because they are 'hard' it's easy to fall into the habit of doing that for just about everything, so nothing gets done. On the flipside, pushing yourself into sludge isn't great either, for obvious reasons!

    I don't think there's a right answer, but I would always lean towards pushing through, especially when we're only talking about a first draft. The simple fact is most successful projects consist of days of 'FUCK THIS' and the difference between an author and a dreamer is the author will find a way. As much as I hate the adage 'Just Write!' that's really the case here. Write even though it's shit. Write your way through the shit. If anything, embrace the shittiness, revel in it, wear it like little guano medals. Just write until the writing flows. There'll be plenty of time for self-doubt later.

  5. #5
    If, while I am writing, I feel like I am struggling through sludge, that's a red flag that the story isn't for me at that moment. At that point, I would be hard pushed to justify keeping going. I just ... don't have time. That being said, I have revisited stories that were a struggle, and they have gone somewhere on later review. But the vast majority of my writing time is spent on a single, long term project.


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  6. #6
    I tend to choose stories that I feel people will scoff at unless they are done really well. This motivates me to write as well as I can. So, in that case, harder is better.

  7. #7
    Member Terra's Avatar
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    My easiest stories are the ones that pick me ... the ones that wake me up at 2:00 a.m. and I just have to get up and write ... the ones that make my heart bump or I laugh out loud while waiting in line at the bank. Those are the ideas that flow from my fingers, and whether or not they're any good doesn't matter to me at that point.

    Prompts are challenging for me, but I've learned that I need to give the prompt dedicated time to come alive. Even once some sort of flow is established, it can still be a challenge to get the story out. Unless I have a deadline to produce something, if it becomes too much like work to write the story, then I file it for another day and rarely will it go into file 13.

    Easy or challenging, it's the pure adrenaline of creativity that lights me up and keeps me writing.

  8. #8
    The last book I finished kind of wrote itself -- the characters took over and filled up the scenes, I could use standard plot devices, etc. The one before that seemed, at numerous times, to be impossible to write (and I ended up with several quirky solutions). I wouldn't say one was better than the other. So I think it's the book.

    Nonfiction is probably different. The work I like best is when I wrote something obvious (or plausible or even insightful) and discovered it was wrong. Then I had to go deeper.
    My website (Hidden Content ) has good essays on starting a book and using metaphoricals.

  9. #9
    Wow, Tiamat, you have a lot of ground to cover in there. LOL

    Let's start with the last. If you struggled through 500 words in two hours, you're ahead of the game. There are name authors who aren't that productive. I did a little research on that earlier in the year. Lots of pros are happy to get 1000 words a day. So what you're feeling as a drag may not be that bad.

    All the pants versus plot discussion is just indefinable. For my first completed novel, I pantsed it for 12 chapters, then got blocked. Not just slowed down, I put it away almost forever. When I finally pulled it back out, I realized I hated the end of Chapter 12, and had no inspiration on where to go from there. So I rewrote the last scene of Chapter 12 to contain an ending I COULD find inspiration to proceed from, and finished the book in a few more months of part-time writing. I DID outline it from that point to the ending, and vaguely followed my outline. Mostly I left stuff out which I had in the outline, because the entire outline would have added another 20K words the novel didn't need.

    So I always encourage people who are in a struggle to examine what they just wrote. There is the possibility they're not really happy with that, and need to change gears on what "just happened".

    For the sequel to that book, I wrote a two page treatment. So I knew in general where it was going, but things changed as I wrote. I had a main character supposed to enter a scene, and decided at the moment he was supposed to step in that he wouldn't. The fact that he went missing consumed three chapters and a major restructuring of my chart of characters. It was also a good shock for the reader, along with a lot of good tension. But the story finished as I'd originally planned anyway. It just took detours.

    The book I wrote this spring was 100% pants, and as the thread has discussed, it was "easy writing". It flowed. I really only had two deep thinks. The first was whether to kill a character relatively early--I decided not to because I figured I'd need him for a couple of later scenes. The second was how to get my MC into a dynamic and dangerous environment where he couldn't just call for help. But once I got him "in the wild", the story continued to flow. Neither of those decisions took enough thought to delay the writing. I was still on earlier scenes as I contemplated those issues, and had it worked out by the time the story got to that point. My wife weighed in HEAVILY with her vote to NOT kill the character I mentioned, but that wasn't the deciding factor. I THINK she would have eventually forgiven me if he had died.

    I just blogged that I'm slogging it out in my current chapter. It's a mystery and I have no idea yet how I'm going to expose the first clue to my MC, or what it's going to be. This is one where I wrote almost three chapters by pants, then outlined the rest, and now I have to fill in the blanks. My outlines are never precisely detailed. So in the meantime I'm writing a few cute scenes that should entertain, but don't really get to the crux of the mystery. Eventually, what I need will come to me.

  10. #10
    I don't know that challenging is "better," but if writing seems too easy, it might be worth reviewing to make sure you're not reusing generic plot points, not writing the same characters as you did in past works, not employing stereotypes and cliches, and so on. My best work is often the writing that I "craft" - the writing that I focus on, plan, and engineer to be effective. The parts I have to go back and rework are usually the ones I just flew through.
    "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

    "I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story." - Tom Clancy

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