The latest thing I’m doing to derail myself

So, the latest thing I’ve started doing to seemingly sabotage myself with my writing is this: any time I hit any part of my story that isn’t clear to me yet, I stop. everything. completely.

It started happening a couple weeks ago, when I couldn’t decide if I had my characters at the right age and finally decided the story needed to be reworked in order to be Young Adult. And then, I froze. I spent days not writing anything, just thinking over the changes I had to make.

Eventually I started writing again, but ever since then, every tiny bump I hit paralyzes me. I haven’t written anything at all yet today, because I can’t figure out the side story with one of my main characters. I vaguely know that he left his home and there is tension with his legal guardian, but I don’t know why he left, what that tension is, or even what actually happened to his parents (why did he end up getting raised by someone else?).

And he’s not even the protagonist, he’s just the possible love interest for the protagonist. And still, I’m totally frozen today, just thinking, “I can’t continue until I know more about his background.”

I was plowing forward for so long, ignoring these questions, reminding myself it was just the first draft and I could go back and fix things later. But it’s like my snow plow hit a rock and now it’s crookedly plowing and has lost a bit of its confidence and any time it sees any bump up ahead it’s like, “Oh, I’m not sure I can make it. I’m scared. I need to slow down and stop completely and stare at that bump up ahead for a while.”

I need to get back to mowing forward, because lately I’m not making any progress. I mean, I guess outlining could count as progress, but is that even what I’m doing? I’m just sitting here, thinking about the direction the story could go. But I’m worried that if I know too much about what’s going to happen, I’ll lose interest in writing it. I feel like maybe I should be left in the dark a little, so I still have some curiosity. And I think my characters need a little freedom to breathe and move, too.

But then I’m afraid if I don’t sort these things out and get plot questions answered now, I’ll end up with an enormous mess of a first draft, or my story will devolve into something ridiculous.

I don’t know how to approach this situation. Do I stop writing for a day, or a couple days, or however long it takes me to sort out my plot/character questions when they come to me? Do I spend time outlining and drafting and mapping, to avoid disorganization, but risk losing curiosity? Or do I force myself forward when I have questions, ignoring them and allowing my characters actions and the flow of the story to eventually reveal the answers? I honestly don’t know at this point. And so I end up standing here, glancing around and doing nothing.

Just checking in.

Daily standard word count, here. Total for the day: 744.

Not much, but I’ve done worse, too.

I’ve discovered a new technique that seems to be helping to keep the ball rolling (rolling slowly, but hey, it’s moving): loosely outlining by chapter. I can’t seem to write an extensive outline, as I’m not sure where the story is totally going yet (and I think I would feel confined if I tied it all up neatly in a structured box like that). However, I’d been dragging my pen, barely making progress day to day, and have been constantly getting stuck when I don’t know how to continue.

So for the past two days, I’ve started bulleting the next 2-3 steps/moments/conversations/etc I can imagine happening in the story as they come to me. And so far, it seems to be helping provide a little more momentum.

Random notes for the day:

– I’m feeling extra emotional and insecure today, about everything. I cried out to my husband over the phone, “What if I can’t do this? What if I do write it and it turns out to be awful, terrible, and I’ve wasted so much of my time and your time and our money?!’

He very gently said to me, ‘Hon, it’s close to the end of the month, isn’t it? I think you might be extra sensitive right now.’ (and he’s right. the mood swings – lord jesus.)

– For people with sensitive hearts for animals, you may not want to read this next update. But I have to put it down to get it out.

Driving down the road today, I saw a small creature moving up ahead of my car. Getting closer, I saw it was a baby rabbit trying to drag itself out of traffic to safety on the side of the road. It’s back leg was dangling useless behind it. I put on my hazards and gave it cover with my car so that it could make it to the side. Then I pulled over and gently threw a sweatshirt I had in my car over it, wrapped it up and drove to the animal hospital with it on my lap. It was so small, and weighed next to nothing.

But the vet couldn’t save it. “The doctor examined it and it had external bleeding,” the nurse explained to me over the phone when I called for an update a short while later. “We had to euthanize it, I’m sorry.”

I knew that was the most likely outcome; I understand that. But the image of it dragging itself, foot hanging, eyes wide, looking so small and afraid as cars flew by it – I can’t get that image out of my head. I try to tell myself that I did the right thing by getting it out of that situation, that at least it was able to hopefully die a little more quickly and with a little less fear – but what if I caused it more fear by wrapping it in my sweater (even though I did it as gently as I could)? What if I caused it more fear by bringing it to such a foreign environment, smelling like antiseptic and dogs and cats?

I have to stop thinking about it, but the tiny, helpless creature keeps popping into my head without my permission.

– I’m going to watch some Buffy now to distract myself.