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Have You Ever Painted Yourself into a Corner?

Or mopped, for that matter. You know, where you don’t think ahead, and by the time you reach the final corner of the room there’s nowhere for you to stand? Let alone get out of that corner without ruining everything you did?

Surprisingly (or not), this is a great metaphor for writing: don’t write yourself into a corner.

To give credit where it’s due, this advice was given to me from a friend of mine who got it from her English teacher (who, I imagine, got it from someone else in turn). My friend generally uses it when someone asks what to do in a complicated writing situation (like sentences where you either have to say people’s names 5,000 times or use pronouns with the wrong antecedent).

The long and the short of it is that if figuring out how to write it is that hard, you might need to go far enough back to take a different approach.

This idea is one of the major reasons why I think periodic revisions are helpful (and occasionally necessary) with novel writing. I’ve done this to myself on the chapter level (as well as page, paragraph, and line). On the macro scale, I’ve often found that this kind of problem goes back to a previous action that isn’t backed by characterization (“Who’s Driving This Plot?“), and if that’s the case, it definitely means going back and taking a different approach.

And that’s ok. Take a little break. Look at it from another angle or at a different scale. If you get stuck trying to figure out this 1 specific, minute thing, it’s time to back up and look at the big picture. Do you even need to do that thing? (The answer is usually “no.”)

It’s a little like the “Blind Love & Letting Go” problem – don’t get so caught up in succeeding at 1 thing that you sacrifice the rest of the story. Don’t write yourself into a corner.

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