My 4-year-old is obsessed with a hand-me-down Barbie Jeep that actually runs. She floors it and races across our back yard, then drops her foot off the pedal at the last possible moment.
By last possible moment, I mean she stops within inches of crashing into the flowerbeds, the play structure or the sandbox. (Or, occasionally, a supervising adult.)
When she’s stuck, she hits reverse and backs up, sometimes just a little, other times halfway across the yard. Then she floors it again and gets herself stuck. Again.
I keep suggesting the benefits of the slower gear for maneuvering out of tight spots, but my daughter likes moving forward. Fast. And backward. Fast. There’s a great sense of motion and accomplishment that, apparently, is missing when she tries a slower, more methodical approach.
It has occurred to me today that this is exactly how I’ve been moving through the third section of my historical novel, LOST NOTES. I’m ready to get to the ending! Some writing sessions feel like my brain is saying, “Are we there yet?” while my outline says I’m only a third of the way through this section. Lots of pieces have to come together still.
In any case, I grab ahold of an idea, think YES! and race through the scene, just like my daughter driving her Barbie Jeep. When I get stuck, I reverse, reread earlier pieces of the text, figure out where I made a wrong turn, and then try to correct my angle. I know going fast means a lot of it is scaffolding, but right now I’m trying to get the story down. It has been a successful method, if you’re talking word count, but it’s also a bit risky.
I just ran into a totally unexpected obstacle–one that I might have caught earlier had I been working more methodically, and had I not opted to change my outline mid-flow. My protagonist got married, but he’s supposed to get drafted eight months later. Problem is, the Civil War draft targeted unmarried men between 20 and 40. Not married men–unless they ran out of unmarrieds, and since I’m using an actual town with a draft register, I can’t cheat. He can’t get married before July 1863.
That detail about the draft is probably why when writing the original outline, I opted to keep Henri unmarried. But this being historical fiction, and an epic spanning more than two decades, I lost track of that fact and figured the stakes would be greater if he were married.
Until this revelation. Now I have to reverse and rethink a lot of the plot. But it’s a good thing, too. My word count was getting out of control, and I haven’t even introduced a major antagonist yet. I’m now spinning my wheels, going neither forward nor backward, running through dates and details and plot points, trying to figure out a) how to condense the story before it turns into a whole new novel and b) how far back I made that wrong turn.
Have you run into first-draft dead ends? If so, how have you gotten yourself out of the situation? Reversing your course and doing a lot of rewriting? Changing the circumstances? Or plowing ahead anyway, knowing you’ll revise?