Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you want them to.
This may seem like the obvious statement of the century, but people don’t always think to apply this maxim to their creative writing. Sometimes a story just won’t happen the way you want it to. Sometimes you try to write about a subject that is a departure for you and you realize you’re just not familiar enough with it. Sometimes you just can’t make a story end the way you want it to, or the character ends up falling flat no matter how much you try to pump him up.
What do you do now?
It’s time to look at another old maxim: “When a door closes, a window opens.” The important thing about getting your writing to work is 1) accept a closed door; and 2) find an open window. So I’d like to talk today about how to do these two important things for revising (or re-imagining) your work.
Let a door close in your writing.
The first thing to do is look at your story with cold, clear eyes and acknowledge what it can and can’t be. Can this short story really be an epic science fiction novel? Can it really be a scathing political diatribe? Does your character have enough dimension to be the main character? Can the story really juggle three different families’ lives? It’s time to ask yourself the tough questions and be honest with yourself about the answers. This isn’t a failure; it’s a way of seeing your writing in a new way. Basically, you’ve begun with something rough, something that has the germ of an idea in it. At some point, you have to look at that idea and see if you are serving it best the way you’re currently presenting it.
Look for new opportunities in your writing.
The wonderfully liberating thing about letting that door close is that you’ll begin to notice all the open windows it leaves. Now that you know what your story can’t be, you’ll be able to notice just what it can. So that political rant just isn’t working? Cut it out, and discover what your characters do in their ordinary lives. Your character just isn’t three-dimensional enough to be the star? Maybe it’s because you’ve been trying too hard with him, when it’s his wife who really interests you. Try promoting a peripheral character to the lead role. The ending doesn’t work? Stop trying to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic. Throw out the ending and write one that makes more sense.
It’s remarkable how we allow our failures to limit us and blind us to the potential for success. The next time you find yourself coming up against a closing door, stop trying to slam against it. Try looking at the problem in another way. Look for an open window, and make a leap.