So you’ve started your novel and it’s off and running and then you realize… something’s not quite right. You feel like you need to add or subtract characters, you forgot a subplot, you need to cut a theme, the writing just isn’t clicking, or you don’t have as solid of a foundation as you thought you did.
What do you do?
1. Don’t panic.
Particularly those of you who are perfectionists and/or plotters, though any of you pantsters and plansters who are also prone to be sent into a tailspin by this. Don’t freak out, writers. No matter how badly your story seems flawed right now, it’s nothing you can’t fix. Oh sure, it would be nice to be able to write without ever making a mistake or having to fix something but the last time I checked, this planet’s name was Earth, not Utopia. Sorry, everyone.
2. Step away for a moment.
Go for a walk, take a shower, read for half an hour, play a game, practice martial arts or dance, or go hit a punching bag. Taking a step back and doing something else usually helps distance yourself enough from the story that you will come back with a more balanced viewpoint.
3. Come back and look at it again.
Is it really that bad? Can you keep writing the first draft and fix the problem/s in a rewrite or editing? Or is it such that you need to fix it now so that you can continue in the right track for the rest of the story?
4. How can you fix it?
If your answer to the last question of #3 is ‘yes’, then there are a few things you can try.
A. Identify the worst section and rewrite it. Sometimes this is enough to enable you to finish the first draft relatively smoothly and leave the other issues for a rewrite or editing.
B. Give it more time. Putting the story down for a month or a few is often enough to give you the rest of the gelling time that the elements need to combine properly.
C. Start over. Personally I prefer to save this option for a last resort but sometimes the story is enough of a mess that you just have to sweep everything away and begin anew. It’s often frustrating but it’s okay. Fortunately, it’s not the end of the world. (From personal experience I can tell you that it takes something a bit stronger to create an apocalypse.)
5. Above all, remember that you are the ultimate architect of this story.
You can take as many months or years as are needed to refine or distill the story until it fits your vision. (Unless you are writing for a deadline, in which case still remember this point but you’d probably better choose option A or B.)
One more thing. Never forget that writing is an art, not a science. Art is more fluid, less exacting, less specific, with fewer set-in-stone rules. Keep in mind the reason that you became a writer and enjoy the journey as much as you can.
Merry Writing, and may you rarely have to start again!