I confessed to my husband yesterday that I did not make much forward progress on The Novel last week. This type of confession is dangerous because it leads him to think I sat around watching Oprah reruns and eating the proverbial bonbons. What I could never get him or anyone else to understand (unless it was a fellow writer) is that although very little forward progress was made, I did a tremendous amount of writing. Except that it was re-writing, re-positioning, re-vamping of characters and the like.
Enter The Tinker. Or, more correctly, The Tinkerer. The story had been going along swimmingly until I started to over think it (as I tend to do with everything, not just writing). I could feel my mental wheels start to sink into the mire and slow until the entire enterprise had ground to a complete halt.
The problem with over thinking is often it is never a huge item that starts the derailment – it can be quite small. I find myself muttering, “There is no way Esmereldarina can be carried off by trolls on the back of a Welsh pony; it has to be something stubby, shaggy, and attitudinal like a Shetland…” Of course, I come to this realization thirty pages after I’ve already written the troll/pony scene…and so…
I go back and tinker. Then I find more things to tinker with and more and more. Soon, I’m back at page one rethinking whether or not I want this story to be about trolls who use ponies as transportation anyway.
Hearing this sad tale over coffee yesterday morning, my husband came up with a great suggestion. In his nerdy line of work where they hardly give trolls a thought, they use something called “parking lots.” These are like storage documents where they put random thoughts and tinkering ideas for use or consideration later. I could use a “parking lot” document to write down all of my doubts about the minutiae without actually destroying all of the progress I’ve made.
Key to writing any story of any length is to get it down. Tinkering destroys that possibility. If while I’m having heroines kidnapped by equestrian trolls, I can harbour the idea for exchanging the ponies for four-wheel drive quads in a parking lot document for use (or ridicule) later. Then, its head down, keep on writing.
This week I vow to make good forward progress. If I have to fill up a parking lot, so be it. Save the tinkering and tailoring for later.