Writing in the current

I’ve had many conversations that lasted for hours, and someone always says, “How did we wind up on this topic?” The later at night the conversation, the weirder the topic in question. I think it’s fun to fumble back through bits of conversation and thought, figuring just how we got from Captain Picard to tofu burgers.

I’ve had writing that goes like that. I’m on target, in the middle of the river, and then I’m off, writing about something completely different, and before I know it, I’m on a tributary, stretching this metaphor for all it’s worth.

Thing is, when I go off on a tangent, I have to figure out whether to get back on track, or to just follow it wherever it takes me. Even if I’m having fun, what I’m writing might not be best for the story. Or it might be just what the story needs. I’ve reedited from the middle before, making the beginning more on line with my tangent. And I’ve written to the very end of a tangent only to find it going nowhere, and I have to backtrack and delete what I’ve done to the point where I wandered off.

This definitely happened during my last project. My ending was fun for me, but wasn’t right for the story. I copied it into a folder, hoping to use it some other time, and rewrote an ending that fit, that worked for the story as a whole.

How do you handle tangents, tributaries in your writing? Do you flow with them and see where they take you? Or do you hold to the middle of the river, jotting down notes on any tangent ideas, but fearing getting lost? Seriously, tell me before I do this river metaphor all day.


14 thoughts on “Writing in the current

  1. I’m one of those writers that NEVER (okay, seldom) knows what’s going to happen next. I think the characters know best, and I simply go with the flow. (See, I can do the whole river thing, too.)

    The problem with my method is…rivers run dry. And I’m not talking just tributaries, I’m talkin’ whole Niles. It’s happened once and is threatening again.

    There’s something to be said for organic, and there’s even more to say about getting things done. At the moment, I’d like to experience more of the later.

    • My rivers have dried up, too, Pattie. And that’s not a menopause joke. I remember a story about a fish-man….but I digress. I say, and will always say, start something new, maybe something short. Then you can get a feeling of accomplishment from getting to “The End” quicker.

  2. I write from an outline (a sparse one) but an outline nonetheless. Even then, sometimes the actual writing might take me down another path from the one I envisioned.

    Like you, I keep a separate file open called ‘novel title’, Deleted Text. If I find I’ve wandered into a tangent that doesn’t lead me anywhere, I’ll pop the text in there.

    I’ve never had an opportunity to reuse text, but it has provided some impetus, so it’s not totally worthless.

    • I agree, Maria, it’s never worthless. I started a new project from some deleted text. Of course, I think I just used the idea, not the actual words, but you get the drift. Man, this water/river theme can go on forever!

  3. I go with the flow but hang onto the original idea like a life preserver. If the tributaries don’t lead anywhere interesting, I go back to where I left the river. Currently, I’m up a creek without a paddle… 😉

      • Actually, I’ve set the novel aside that I was preparing to submit. It gets worse the more I work on it. But, I’m working on a new story that is practically writing itself. I keep getting sidetracked by drama at home, but this little story has big potential. Really! I think.

        Part of my problem is fear of disappointing my husband. If I submit that novel and it doesn’t sell right away (or ever), he’s going to be sooo disappointed. He’s planning to retire as soon as I sell my first book since I assured him when I started that it was a “great” story. If I just keep stalling, he’ll eventually retire and then it won’t matter so much if it sells or not. Doesn’t that seem logical????

      • Well, good luck with it. I think all stories start to look bad the longer you look at them. I’d have someone else do a once-over on it and then submit. I love your logic, but your husband’s just going to have to get over it. ^_^

  4. I have had the experience of major tangents while I write.
    Generally such tangents are terminated with great prejudice.
    Some times I keep hints of them as back story.

    On one occasion though the tangent (although pruned) has formed the basis of the outline for another whole book.

    • That’s fabulous, Al. I’ve had a sort of similar experience. I think tangents are sometimes fun just for the experience. I was once so fed up with the characters of one novel that I wrote a scene where they all died and then cut it later.

  5. This is the very reason why I’m such a big fan of outlining! 🙂 If I don’t, I’ll lost my way and end up talking about something that has nothing to do with the story just because I enjoy it! I write a detailed outline for every chapter before I begin writing my first draft and do best to stay on track 🙂

  6. Barbara,

    I grab my oars and paddle up the tributary. I write by the seat of my pants, so I might as well sail by them.

    Thanks for a fun post. I hope you figure out the best way to navigate your writing project so your manuscript ends up in the right port!

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