Why writers need to keep their eyes on the road

11541053-driver-s-hands-on-a-steering-wheelMe, writer's group last night: "The hardest part of writing a book is figuring out how to do it."

Much raucous laughter.

The thing is, that's true, even if completely obvious. People always ask "where do you get your ideas"? Ideas, frankly, are like flowers at a botanical garden. Everybody's got ideas. That's one of the reasons writers keep journals, because all of the damn ideas don't stick in your head. I got another idea on the elliptical this morning.

The hard part is deciding how to tell the tale.

We sat around our table last night, the four of us, and spent at least part of the discussion helping our spotlighted writer for the evening hash out how she wants to tell this story. She'd submitted an action-packed, well-characterized (at least for two of the characters) 20 pages, but it was told from every point of view, which was disconcerting and confusing. She's struggling over how to weave in past and present, how to chop it up or not chop it up, and how to get the story out she wants to tell.

In part, that's my problem, too: I know my story, because I'm rewriting it. I'm also changing it. And at the moment I'm stuck looking at a scene and wondering: Do I need this? Should I be shifting things around? Do these characters need to be talking about this stuff? And then I get bogged down in the technical and lose sight of the creative. It's like worrying about your tires when you're on a cross-country drive.

Anyway, my point is, in general if all you want to do is tell a story where A led to B and inevitably culminated in C, well, that's not all that hard. Get the idea, get a grip on where it goes, and steer it there. But that's not always the best way to tell the story. Figuring out that part, that's where a lot of us veer off the road. Including me.