Writing myself into a corner

When I was a young reporter, we’d come back from a meeting or event and we would be under a tight deadline. You didn’t have a ton of time for lots of discussion about the best approach to take or what flowery language to use in the piece. We would often start by typing out our notes and maybe a quote or two that we wanted to include and then start working to tell the story the simplest and quickest way possible.

The newsroom was a crazy place of talk and banter and keyboards clicking and clacking away all at the same time. My coworkers and I would inevitably joke about writing ourselves into a corner, the writer’s equivalent of painting yourself into a corner, meaning you had a bunch of stuff on the page, but you didn’t give yourself a way out. It could be an ending, a summation, or an exit point. 

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Fixing the copy

You would have to step away for a brief second and come back, see where the story was going and smoothen out the edges and the transitions. I haven’t worked as a reporter in a long time, but I still occasionally have that happen.

I was working on a novel a few years ago. I got pretty far, a whopping 60,000 words. The gist of the novel was the lead-up to a large multi-car crash. I introduced a business executive, two young women heading to a concert, and a truck driver and followed each of them on their journey, ultimately seeing who lives and dies. As part of the story, they all get to look back on their lives and see where things went right and wrong.

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The never-ending story

Unfortunately, I ran into problems. I included too much back-and-forth detail from their past and present days. Flashbacks work well in the movies, think The Godfather Part II, which features flashbacks of the young Vito Corleone establishing himself in New York City, or even Casablanca, which uses a flashback montage, showing Rick and Ilsa’s love story before the Nazis invaded Paris. In books, the shifting backward and forward can be tough to follow. In fact, the constant interruption was giving me a headache and I was the damn writer!

I wrote myself into a corner. I put the book down for a while and it sat and sat and sat. In some ways, I let the project sit for too long. I chalked it up as three months of early mornings —yes, I got up each morning at 3 or 4 a.m. and worked on my novel for two hours, until I had to get a shower and commute to work — that I would never get back and simply moved on. Or so I thought.

Image by Jeshoots via Pexels

Reading with fresh eyes

Thanks to the encouragement of a few friends I met via my blog and a couple friends and former coworkers, I picked up my book recently and it was a fun read. There’s still much that’s missing, there’s still no ending. It just sort of stops. The technology or the way the characters look back on their life needs some work as well. Where’s Charles Dickens and his Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future when you need them? Despite all that, there’s lot of things I love about the effort and it’s been helpful to go back.

I don’t know that I have a passion to fix what’s wrong, but I do have a desire to get back to novel writing. I’m keeping an aggressive blogging schedule and I’m looking at ideas for my next book. This time I will finish. I’ve made a promise myself.

And, this time, I won’t be be writing myself into any corners. 

58 thoughts on “Writing myself into a corner

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  1. I’m excited that you’re going to pick it back up, Brian! You’re such a great writer that a novel would be fantastic. Besides that, it’s encouraging to hear about some of the things you’ve experienced. Not that I’m glad they’ve happened to you, but it makes me feel better about running into similar issues, even in blogging. Thank you for sharing this – and we’ll be excited to hear about your progress!

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    1. Thanks Kendra. I’m not very good about taking compliments on my writing. I just try to write stuff that I would want to read. I feel too that if I’m willing to be vulnerable, willing to be authentic then it may be worth anything, but then it’s at least worthwhile to me. I eager to see where it goes. If I keep my original work, it will be a lot to fix. I really need to think about what direction I want to go. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I really do appreciate it. Means a lot. Thanks so much.

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      1. I understand, Brian – I’m much more comfortable giving compliments than receiving them. But it’s been really fun reading your posts, and I’ve been inspired by them. As to authentic and vulnerable, yes, yes, yes. It shows. Thank you for that. 😊

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    1. Yup, all three of my kids were still home when I wrote this first draft. It was tough at firs to get up that early to write, but once I started a schedule and was consistent about it, I looked forward to the time. It was such a fun creative time. Usually put me in a great mood for the rest of the day. The writing was done, I could get into everything else that the day brought. We’ll see, I have lots of goals, need to prioritize a little . . . . but thanks so much for the encouragement. Much appreciated.

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  2. I love that you’re picking your manuscript up again, reading anew and enjoying! Keep at it! It sounds like a compelling story…and maybe you needed some distance from it, as part of your process. Congrats on your resolve to write, write, write! 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve enjoyed going back. I was in a different spot in my life. All three of my kids were home. I was commuting early in the morning, getting home late at night. I somehow managed for a three-four month period to get up early and crank out 1500 words. It’s a Time Machine in some ways. Kind of cool. Thanks for the encouragement. I need to first figure out if there’s a way to salvage what I have or start over on a different story and then we’ll go from there. Thanks for the encouragement!

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  3. I sure could relate to this!!! I’ve never made it to 60,000 words before painting myself into a corner though (😬😬😬), but it was refreshing to have a fellow writer explain to me what actually happens. I’m glad you liked what you were reading when you came back to it, and I am cheering for you to continue working on it (or something brand new) this year 🙂🙏🙏🙏

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    1. It was 60,000 without a lot of editing. I really tried to just keep moving forward and not spend a lot of time in rewrite. I naturally went back a little, but the goal was always a thousand or so words each day. Yes, I need to come up with a plan. I have a free weekend next weekend — my goal is to write a lot for my blog, get a few pieces completed and ready for when I need them and to start working on a plan. My biggest decision point is to figure out whether to keep my existing story or to start over. Oh, the choices. I really need to see how much rework I need. It feels like a lot, but I want to take a real look and see if I can fix it without a lot of effort. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Really appreciate it. Means a lot.

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  4. I cannot imagine the work that needs to be put into a novel. I wish you luck on your next one. The detail that you had a day job may be relevant with pregares to the unfinished one. I feel,with photography that when conditions are right and I get inspiration, I’m at work. It’s difficult to command creativity and creativity requires blocks of time on demand.

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    1. My thing with creativity is that it helps when I dedicate time to it, meaning, I’m going to sit down every night in the evening (even if it’s with my wife, while she reads or watches TV). When I don’t have the time or skip, I start to feel the creativity shifting away. For example, we spent much of the weekend in the car, taking our son back to college. I really need to sit down today at some point and put some of the thoughts floating in my head down on screen or I’m going to lose them. I’m not sure how that is with photography, but really important for me. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Really appreciate it.

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  5. This is my idea of a significant personal goal, Brian. And you’re such a good writer and observer of human nature, you’ve got this. But be careful about not having too many competing must-dos on your list. You may have to forgive yourself if you miss a few blog posts. The time will come to prioritize.

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    1. Oh you’re so right, Jane. I’m trying to manage a few things right now. I want this to be fun. I wrote in another comment, my goal is to take a look next weekend at a couple of my goals and see what makes sense and how I can line things up. I want to write a novel but I also love my blog. I don’t want to stress myself out too much. Maybe it’s continue with the novel writing, but at a slower speed than I might have otherwise planned. Anyway, thanks so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate it. Thanks so much.

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  6. The ending of this post was terrific so I’m betting the ending of your book and story of writing it will be great too! I love this post for the reflection, writing advise and big dreams. Sending tons of enthusiasm and support!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, lots of big dreams . . . not sure I can make them all happen Wynne, but isn’t that where the fun is at. We’ll see. Ha, ha. No matter what though . . . I’m having so much fun with the heartofthematter blog and my own blog. Thank you so much for the encouragement. It’s very much appreciated!!!

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  7. 60,000 words, Brian! That’s amazing—quite some feat. I don’t think I’ve ever written even a fraction of that. I’m impressed. Also, it takes some strong discipline and determination to get up that early to spend two hours writing.

    When I write a post or some poetry, it can take me all day, sometimes two days (or more), to feel satisfied with what I’ve written. I must read it over twenty times before I press that dreaded Publish button.

    I wish you lots of success in either finishing your existing book or coming up with new ideas for your next one (or both). Sorry, I’ve missed commenting on some of your recent posts; I’m still trying to chase my tail.

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    1. Oh, Ellie, I didn’t say all 60,000 words made sense. Ha, ha. I probably should have kept up the early mornings. I might be further along with the novel if I had. Ha, ha. Yes, I’m excited to get back to it. Thanks so much for the encouragement. Good luck to you too on your writing. It’s not the number of words that matter. It’s what they say. You say a lot with yours. Thanks so much!

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  8. An editor / mentor once told me that no writing is ever wasted, so I’m sure there will be something in there for you to pick up and run with, Brian. Best of luck with whatever you do with your words and I look forward to reading the novel.

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  9. Good for you to pick up novel writing again. I’m about ready to take a look at my second draft of my NaNoWriMo manuscript. I lost the first draft when my computer starting acting up and I didn’t back it up.

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    1. I can relate to losing the manuscript. I have a hard copy, I haven’t found the soft copy version yet. At least I have something. But if I do decide to return to my original work, I’m going to havd some rewriting. Thanks for the encouragement. I really appreciate it.

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  10. Every now and then when I come across something that I wrote eons ago, I ask myself, “Did I write that? Really?” It’s fun to read with fresh eyes. Perhaps your new eyes will bring new awareness of writing yourself back out of the corner, or starting anew and not writing yourself into a new one. You can do it. Good luck!

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    1. I don’t always have that feeling when I read something I wrote. One of my blogs . . . I’ll often start reviewing the grammar and punctuation. The funny thing with the novel. It’s been so long that I picked it up, I was more amazed about the direction than reviewing the nitty-gritty details. It was fun. The problem is going to be time, but it’s something I want and I have more time now that I did years ago when I wrote the first version!

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      1. Haha! Usually the reason I question what I wrote is because I really don’t remember writing it. Now there’s a vision of reading with fresh eyes! How great that you enjoyed it without being sidelined by the nitty-gritties.

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  11. I do think the comment regarding finding someone else you trust to review the novel would be a great idea, Brian. Sometimes, I think just getting a fresh set of eyes (and minds) on a partially-developed project can lead to a breakthrough you’d never imagine otherwise. It does sound like a great story!

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    1. Aww thanks! The one bummer with the project: I have a hard copy version printed out. I can’t seem to find a soft copy anywhere. I still need to look at an old laptop that I have, but if I go with the original, I’ll more than likely have to do some copying. But, you bring up some good advice. I hadn’t thought about sharing it with anyone. I showed a couple former coworkers a few years ago and my wife read it too. My wife liked it a lot, but she likes everything I write, comes with the territory! Ha, ha. But, yes, I need to think about your idea. It makes a lot of sense. Thank so much for the idea!!! 😎😎

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  12. Ha, I can totally relate to the newsroom experience. I once had my editor tell me to come up with a story by the end of day—interviews and quotes included. I remember that mad scramble and learning one of my biggest lessons in writing: I don’t need to be ‘inspired’ to put out decent work.

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    1. Yes, I think that’s a sign of a real writer, sitting down and churning out something great or even passable, when you might not really feel it or have the inspiration. The toughest part is getting the words on paper, from there you can always edit, but you need something to start with. I miss working in a newsroom, but I’m also grateful to not have the daily deadlines and stresses. Thanks for sharing Stuart!

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  13. Fascinating post Brian and I am jubilant that this time you won’t be writing yourself into a corner. I agree that writing or even planning to release a novel is a mammoth task which can easily knock you over the edge.

    I have faith that you will do well with this writing project because you were a Reporter once so you are used to writing longer posts

    Keep moving 🔥🔥👏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I loved where the novel took me. I loved the various challenges the characters got put into, but the flipping back and forth got to be too annoying for the reader. If I return to it, I need find a way to fix some that. I need to do more showing than telling. Anyway, thanks for reading.

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