It’s Been 3 Days and My Characters Have Already Betrayed Me

How to write spontaneously when you yourself are not spontaneous.

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writing

The story goes like this: character is alive. Character dies within 10 pages of book. Character stays dead because it is not typical for people to die and then come back to life, even in books. The end.

Except my character has decided that he does not want to remain dead. Therefore, I’m stuck with him for at least a third of the book. I know nothing about this guy – he was supposed to spend the majority of the story dead. Character development minimal. Now he’s all of a sudden important. Round, lovable and vital to almost every scene in the third act. I’m overwhelmed and not very pleased with his behavior.

If you’re reading this, and have always questioned why writing a novel is so hard, THIS IS THE REASON.

Writing well is all about being able to separate your real self from your writer self. A lot of people don’t agree with me on this, but hear me out. In my work and personal life, I am hyper-organized, anxious, have to have plans made weeks in advance and cannot deviate from the schedule under any circumstances.

For some people, this might translate fine into their writing life. Not the case with me. As a writer – writing this blog and fiction, specifically – I am disorganized, spontaneous and just let things happen as they happen. Locking myself too tightly into any kind of structure stifles my creativity. If I acted the same way while writing my novel as I did in my daily life, the twists and turns that come along with writing a YA sci-fi thriller would send me into a legitimate panic attack every 30 minutes.

In many ways, I’m a completely different person when I’m working on a book. That used to bother me. Now I realize it’s a necessity – and I’m willing to let the uncertainty just flow right past.

That’s a really hard thing to explain to people who do not write willingly in their spare time. But sometimes you have to immerse yourself so deeply into the present tense of your story that you can’t be who you are outside that story, or you won’t be able to tell it well. Or maybe I’m just nutty. Idk.

If you can’t handle spontaneity, writing in any capacity is still possible. It’s not just writing that’s a skill you have to develop: it’s having to learn to just let things happen and go where the words take you.

This is true for both fiction and other forms of writing. Things never finish up the way they start out. The best features, interviews and novels I’ve ever written have ended up in a completely different place than where they began. It’s not even frustrating anymore. It’s just part of the journey. You learn to love it, and laugh at it. You learn that not being able to predict everything that’s going to happen is part of what makes writing so rewarding.

You’re going to be OK. We all are. Hopefully.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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