I thought I knew exactly how the book was going to end.
If you’ve ever tried to write a novel or short story, you probably already know what happened next.
It turned out that I did not, in fact, know how the book was going to end. Because the ending I tried just didn’t work. It fell flat. It wasn’t just that I hated it. It simply did not belong in this book.
This, of course, snet me down a long and agonizing path full of worry and doubt. Was I really the right person to write this story? If I couldn’t figure out how to end it, was it even worth finishing?
Things got worse. Scrolling through the almost 70,000 words I had written, I began to notice things. Bad things. Things that I’d written that just weren’t good, or didn’t seem like they fit.
Suddenly I realized I had fallen from a very high point of confidence to the lowest valley of doubt I’d ever been trapped in. My whole book now seemed pointless and terrible, and I wasn’t feeling much better.
I stayed in that dark place for a long time, wanting so desperately for my story to work so I could tell it, constantly coming up against roadblocks and feeling like I was failing before I’d even finished the first draft of the book.
Eventually, somehow, I figured it out. Something just clicked. After months of reading and rereading parts of the story, outlining, and letting my mind wander over all the possibilities, I finally figured it all out. The story came back together. I stopped doubting it, and myself. Well. Mostly.
My story went completely off the rails. But that’s the only reason it was able to get back on track at all.
It’s often said that things have to fall apart sometimes in order for them to come back together better and stronger than they were before. It’s happened to me. It’s likely happened to you. And the same concept, as so many seem to do, applies to storytelling.
Just when you think you have everything figured out, one loose end unravels the whole thing.
It doesn’t always result in you having to start over — that’s the extreme. But it sometimes does mean you have to take a step back and really think hard about where you started, where you’ve ended up, and where you (think) you might go from here.
In many cases, a story coming undone before your eyes is actually the best thing that will ever happen to you. Only when you’re forced to look more closely at something can you discover its greatest weaknesses, its hidden strengths, and how to fix it — if it’s fixable at all.
If we spent our careers as writers starting and finishing stories without ever struggling through them, well, we’d never really learn anything, would we? There is a reason the best way to improve your writing is by writing. You can’t figure out which parts of your story need redoing until they’re already written.
Mistakes are only fixable once you’ve already made them.
The best thing you will ever do for yourself as a writer is to let the things you’re working on completely descend into chaos. Don’t like where your main plot is going? Let it go somewhere else. Don’t know if adding a certain element will work? Add it in and see what happens. Aren’t sure if this random tangent you’ve suddenly found yourself riding will go anywhere? Take it as far as it will go. You never know.
The best part about writing a story is that you can quite literally do whatever you want without consequence. You could kill off a character, realize later you shouldn’t have done that, and undo the deed. The only thing that matters is that you took a chance, a risk, tried something — just to see if it would work.
Sometimes our stories melt into messes that need cleaning up. Sometimes those messes BECOME the masterpieces. You just don’t know what the best outcome is until it’s already happened.
Let all your stories go absolutely haywire.
Eventually — if you stick with them long enough — you’ll find yourself sitting in front of the best thing you personally have ever created.
That’s pretty cool. Writing is cool. Keep doing it, no matter how chaotic it may become.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.