I've been studying drawing recently (I'm trying to teach myself movie storyboarding) and came across a great quote from comic artist Klaus Janson. He said, "Every creative person I know works from the ground up, from the big to the small, from the general to the specific."
Many writers forget this when they're writing.
They get so absorbed in details that they forget about - or can't see - the importance of the big picture.
In the past I corresponded with a writer who obsessed over her opening chapter so much that she never wrote her novel. Months went by and no matter how much I encouraged her to move on, she couldn't. To her, if the first three thousand words weren't exactly right, she couldn't let herself continue with a story that she might never finish.
Now, I know this is common.
It's also dumb.
Because writing stories is about context. The big. You cannot know what is good about a story - even down to the tiniest word or sentence - unless you write the whole thing first.
It's like getting preoccupied with a few rivets on a steel hull when you should be concerned with whether the boat actually floats.
Take my last novel as an example.
I decided early on to open the story with a long chapter about how a bad guy escapes from prison.
I did the research. Did prisoners escape from jail? Yep, apparently all the time.
How? In a variety of ways. Robyn and I discussed the whys and hows and what would be believable. I decided I would have the bad guy fake a suicide and then overpower a guard. Fine - not overly inspired but I thought I could make it seem real in the context of a low security asylum.
I wrote the first chapter and included descriptions of two other characters and lots of dialogue, action and suspense. I thought it was good - a great way to open a novel.
Then I spent the next few weeks writing the first draft.
I let the story rest on the hard drive for a couple of months.
I came back to the story fresh and looked at the whole thing. I rearranged some chapters, changed some of the events and characters around and brainstormed a bit with Robyn over the plot. She suggested some inspired twists and I made notes about what to include and rework on the second draft.
Then I realized something important.
That opening the story with the bad guy didn't work. I realized it would be better to open with the heroine - and to hide the identity of the bad guy until much later on in the story.
So I had to drop the first chapter. Delete it.
Around 5000 words of good writing gone - perhaps not forever but at least for now.
Imagine if I was still obsessing, like my lady writer, about the first chapter. I might have spent years working on something that never appeared in the final version.
Remember it the next time you get stuck writing a small section.
Write past tricky bits - or decide to work on them later.
Get the whole story down first before you try to construct beautiful and meaningful prose.
You're wasting time if you're describing leaves and stalks that may need to be hacked back or uprooted.
Editing is not a chore: it is the writing that readers see.
Your job is to create something worth editing first.
Hope this helps.
Your Success is My Concern