The Writer, Lost in the Woods

The end of April and beginning of May have been frustratingly slow in terms of writing progress. I wouldn’t call it writer’s block so much as being lost in the woods—figuratively for me, literally for my characters. It's not the type of situation where I don't know what to write, but I keep writing and getting deeper and deeper—and what's worse—more lost.

In the detective mystery I’m halfway through, yet another victim has disappeared and the hunt is on. The protagonist has taken to the gloomy, desolate forest outside of town in close proximity to the area where the victims are last seen alive. He’s not alone, there’s a massive search party, but for some reason the story has bogged down. I keep crawling ahead one paragraph at a time, moving in a specific direction but then realizing that's not where I need to go, or want to go, and so I backtrack, delete, re-write, progress again, backtrack again, etc. It's that troublesome “soft middle” where my story outline got a little vague…and so I'm attempting to write myself out of it, but I've been stuck in the woods for weeks.

It’s a chapter that comes before some major turning points for a few characters and I don't want to rush right in to that. I want the reasons for these changes to feel natural, to have defined causes/effects, but I may simply be trying to pack in too many details and too much "then he did this, then he did that" when it may be best to pull back (to literally write him out of the woods) and have the character reflect on the day’s search afterward when he’s tired, ragged, and focused only on what mattered most. Much in the same way a POV character shouldn’t explain what he’s been up to to every person he meets because it will bore the reader with details they already know, so the writer will use something like, “By the time Rebecca got Rich up to speed it was after sunset, so they decided to get a drink to help ease their nerves.” It's all a matter of pacing and spreading out key details and development, so hopefully this fast-forward and reflection tactic will get the story back on track while still bringing to light the major events and necessary details for the impending change, because everything up this this point has flowed really well. We’ll see.

I have also dragged up an old manuscript I wrote in college that about two brothers who are trying to cope misfortunes and deaths that have long burdened their family, and the book also has a road-story element to it since it starts in Maine and ends in the desert. But it was my first shot at a novel and is clearly the work of a rookie, full of clichés, predictable situations, and awkward writing. It has long been in my “Never Open / Burn Immediately” shoebox. But the more I think about it, the more I feel I could salvage this story. I also have a third novel in need of a second draft, and tow others that still need a home with an agent or publisher, so it looks like this summer is going to be full of writing projects. I’ll just take them one forest at a time, and hopefully I don’t get too lost.