Writing Serially is Hard, or What is Wrong?

Hey wow look, I posted the first section of my go at a pulp story! Just 3 months after I initially planned to! On a cosmic scale that’s basically no time at all, right?

So what happened? The title here says it all: writing serially is hard. 1 I wrote the first section (and it was way too long and not very good, but that’s the project, right?). I went to post it. Then I convinced myself to write the second section before I posted the first, just in case. In case of what? I couldn’t tell you, really, I just could not bring myself to even save the draft.

I wrote the second section. Then the third. Then half of the fourth. At that point I had, essentially, the whole damn story all ready to go, and it still felt… well, wrong. And that got me thinking about Luke’s post on the freedom to be wrong, a post with which I rather vehemently disagreed at the time.2

But here I was looking at a perfect example: being wrong, knowing it was wrong, stalled me. If I had just posted the damn thing and moved on, maybe I would have figured it out sooner. If I had been willing to scrap my outline earlier, maybe I wouldn’t still be doing in April what should have been done by February.

It was when I was finally willing to admit that the outline was wrong that I could move forward. I scrapped one of the things that Dent considers critical, one of the major physical conflicts, and it shrank the first section to a reasonable size and left it feeling more streamlined. You’ll see that even in my outline I didn’t feel great about the removed section. Even then it was more about checking a box than writing what felt right.

So what is wrong? 3 Was my outline wrong? Was the outline right and then it became wrong once I wrote it? 4 Presumably if I were really writing serially I would have posted what I had and found a way to make it work. Would that have made it right? And how do we know what’s wrong? Is it always just a feeling, sensing something’s off?

I’m still not sure I agree with Luke. Yeah, I couldn’t move forward until I admitted I had been wrong, but when you make a change, either the original plan is the wrong one or the new one is, right? But letting yourself continue doing what’s wrong doesn’t make your story better — it just makes more work for you when you scrap it.5

  1. I have no idea how Luke and James are doing it.

  2. And, like all proper internet users, I posted my disagreement in the comments!

  3. This is not a rhetorical device, where I ask a question and then answer it in the following paragraph. I’m actually asking here.

  4. Things did change, lots of things–maybe if I had hewed even closer to the outline it would have worked.

  5. Possibly? Honestly, I’m still stuck on defining “wrong”.

3 thoughts on “Writing Serially is Hard, or What is Wrong?”

  1. Something to consider on the wrongness front (a topic we keep returning to – neat!) …

    My gut reaction to Luke’s Permission to be Wrong article was perhaps closer to yours than you’d think, Amanda, but I think he’s kinda won me over on this one. Being wrong in one place doesn’t mean you necessarily continue to make that mistake if you move forward. Take the boat into the city in Charlotte’s Journey. It is other than the outline, but it’s still wrong. It won’t survive to the final draft. Being aware of what is wrong with that part of the story will let us avoid repeating those mistakes in sections that take place after it, paving the way for easy edits when we finally do figure out how they get over that damn wall. We already have sections that disagree with each other (Raul is introduced to the reader at least twice, maybe three separate times, for example). If our climactic sections disagree with the boat section, that’s okay! We’re not continuing to do what’s wrong – we’re letting what’s wrong stay where it is, being mindful that it is wrong and that we don’t necessarily need the whole solution in this moment, and doing what is right as we move forward. I think. Maybe. I’m putting words in Luke’s mouth.

    That process means work to fix wrongness later, sure, but is it any *more* work to fix it in the future then it is to fix it now? I’m not sure, but I think the answer is no. Permission to be wrong in this case is permission to move forward without having all the answers. As Luke said in the original article, if you don’t accept the wrongness of a thing, you can get hung up on it, and you’ll agonize over getting minutia right at the cost of making any real progress on a draft. I think the message here might simply be “if you can’t get it right in the moment, let it be wrong and move on. You can come back to it.”

    Of course, in your case, there was a fundamental wrongness that seems to have halted the work all together… I’m not sure I can answer your totally-not-rhetorical question, but it is true that sometimes a block of writing just isn’t working. That type of wrongness is on an entirely different level. I suspect that level may have been approached in your work here. Secret telling time: at least twice on Charlotte’s Journey, I’ve written lengthy sections that are just not working and had to admit to myself that there was something so fundamentally wrong with what I was doing that I could not move forward. The shittyness was beyond “permission to be wrong” and went all the way to “start again with a fresh skein of paper and a big ‘ONE’ in the top left corner.” So, I guess I’m saying giving ourselves permission to be wrong is great and all, but we also know when the work is too wrong to be fixed in edits down the line, and you need to make some pretty big fundamental changes.

    Also worth noting: it’s almost like there is no one silver bullet for process. What works for Luke and James isn’t going to be what works for Amanda. Process is deeply personal and seeing how we all approach things in different ways is really neat. By gum, you’d think Luke and I planned on this sort of disagreement happening just so we could get people to talk about it!

    1. There’s a lot to dig into here, and I think I have more to say (heh of course I do, I always do), but this is really interesting: “Being wrong in one place doesn’t mean you necessarily continue to make that mistake if you move forward.”

      I’m beginning to think that I, at least, have two different types of wrong and maybe that I can’t constructively have this conversation without defining them. I’ll return when I’ve thought this through!

      1. I’m glad—because of the conversation it has sparked—that I used the word “wrong” in the first place, however, I’m thinking it was the…wrong…word to choose for what I was getting at. James, you’ve done an excellent job of summarizing what I was trying to say. “Wrong” isn’t about factual incorrectness (i.e. 2+2=3); it’s less tangible, more of a gut feeling that something isn’t working but you’re not sure what yet. So you accept that you’ve written what you’ve written (i.e. They’re on a fraking boat at least and *in the city*)—let me move on from here.

        As James said, process is “to each their own” and I’ll agree whole-heartedly with that. I think it’ll be neat to see how/if lot’s of people’s different processes actually have common threads (I believe there’s a lot about being human that makes things the same), but maybe that won’t prove to be true. What I’m really getting at is that “wrong” felt right to me, so despite the semantics discussion it has inspired, it feels like the word to me.

        I’m looking forward to the definition for wrong you come up with, Amanda. I’m curious how your description will fit with how I feel about it.

        Maybe there’s a Wrong and a wrong; my article was talking about small “w”-rong, and capital “W”-rong refers to that, “It’s time to tear up these pages and start again.” Just a thought.

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