This approach can be nerve-wracking. Yes, you are writing in the dark. Yes, you don’t know how it will turn out. Keep going anyway. Trust this approach. Your subconscious knows what to do, even when your conscious mind appears lost. Let your subconscious drive the car.
The first draft is just a bunch of mistakes. The second draft, fewer errors, the third draft, fewer still, and so on. It’s normal to feel discouraged during the writing process. You are exploring a new land without a map. It’s your job to map it, to note what you see. You will feel lost; that’s normal — all fiction writers feel that.
You are not building a house — you are writing. You do not have to get the foundation right before proceeding with the main structure. You can start anywhere — start with a little room on the second floor; start with the dresser; begin with the gold mirror that belonged to your grandmother. You can always build and rebuild the “foundation” later — writing is flexible like that. Lean on it.
A good ending is a good beginning. There’s a similarity in how to construct them. You don’t need to know what’s going to happen. You just need to put the dynamics in place and then listen to your characters. They will lead you to your ending.
You don’t have to think it all out and know it all yet; you just need to have interactive ingredients that can be used to create interesting dynamics. That’s all you need.
Why? Because as we touched on earlier, fiction writing is all about the concrete details. What you are doing is building little blocks. Writing fiction offers you the luxury of looking at one tiny thing at a time. You’re not looking at the forest. You’re not even looking at a tree; you’re up close to a small slice of bark, examining the details of its bumps and rivulets. You have to build these little blocks first, and then those blocks will show you the way. If you’re not down in the details, you can’t know where you’re going.
Writing is making mistakes and then fixing them. Don’t be so afraid to make mistakes. You’re not a builder — it does not matter that the foundation is cracked or it’s sitting on a cliff. You can fix that later, no problem. The sign of a writer trying to avoid mistakes is the writer who is leaning too heavily on outlines and “structure.”
Here’s a good tip: start the story as late as possible and end it as early as possible. You can almost always cut the first scene from your first draft. You can usually get away with cutting the last scene too. Start your story with the big incident, the big moment. You can fill in the background details later (remember: scene, summary, scene). In your ending, get out as fast as you can. Don’t linger. Let the reader actively take the story onward in their mind.
Just keep working on the little bits and have faith. Themes will emerge. The structure will emerge. Remember, you are not building physical things in space; you are building structures of the mind, and the mind has its logic, its laws of physics. Once you’ve finished the first draft, then you can “walk around in it” and see what needs to be done, what needs to go where.
This trips up many writers because most of us work a day job, and that day job requires you to have a plan. If you told your boss that instead of putting together a monthly strategy, you are going to “let your subconscious lead the way,” you wouldn’t have a job for long. Ironically, fiction writing is one of the few things that does not require a plan; in fact, it’s often hindered by having one.
“Is realism what people read novels for? No. A novel must have verisimilitude, that is, the appearance of reality, within the context of the world created by the book. But realism?” — William Bernhardt
There are benefits and pitfalls to each writing approach, but I recommend the “gardener” approach for new fiction writers. You should write your stories “inside-out” rather than “top-down.” Decide your characters and your style (genre) first and go from there. A good story naturally emerges from good characters, not the other way around. You cannot reverse engineer character out of a plot.
The best endings leave your readers thinking about the story long after they’ve finished. Don’t resolve everything; leave a few details hanging (but not too many, lest you annoy your reader). A story that wraps up too nicely is a story easily forgotten.
“Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.” — Kurt Vonnegut
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