Writing in the Present

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by just the idea of writing a novel.

How many words?!

Honestly, I get spooked writing a short story that’s more than 10,000 words. Ask my writers group. They’ll tell you.

My fear comes from not knowing the whole story. I’ll have a beginning scene and a rough idea where I’m heading but not know how to get there. Or I’ll have a single scene in my mind and very little info on who this character is and why he’s doing what he’s doing.

It’s a bit like being told to drive to a city you’ve never been to before, find a person you don’t know and tell him a message you don’t really understand. Here are the keys. Go.

Yikes. So many words to write, and no idea what they are or where they lead.

I know the key to writing is, you know, writing. So I sit my butt in the chair and I write what I do know about the story. Still, sometimes as I’m writing, my brain will start fretting about the stuff I don’t know.

What about the middle? Who is this bad guy and why is he doing these things? Where is all of this leading?!

The thing about fear — for me at least — is it can be paralyzing. It can make me stop writing. And stopping is bad.

Lately I’ve been practising a new way of keeping fear at bay.

Stay in the present.

I live a better life when I’m focused on the present. When I’m immersed in the now instead of letting my mind fret about the future or the past.

What’s true for living is true for writing.

I write better when I’m focused on the present scene, the scene I know. When I’m immersed in that scene, rather than worrying about not knowing the middle or end or even the beginning.

And just like living, writing in the present takes practice and discipline. My thoughts start to scatter and I reel them back in. Again and again.

The key is to slow down until the characters and setting and interactions become real and solidified in my mind.

As I do this, that present scene triggers ideas for other scenes. And as I stay with those new scenes, I discover still more and more of the story. The chapters stack up. The word count increases.

Sometimes the scenes come to me out-of-order. Ending first, then something from the middle, then second to last and then the beginning, etc. I’ve learned to let that go and just write what I can see.

I just trust that, in time, all of those scenes will chain themselves together into an entire story.

A short story.

A novella.

A novel.