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Quicksand

3 April 2013

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Before we started describing wars that weren’t going well as a Quagmire, and before we started throwing around terms like “cut and run” or “stay the course,” we used a much more accurate term: quicksand. Vietnam was a quicksand war, where no matter how we moved, we just got deeper. The powers that be probably changed it in favor of “quagmire” because “quicksand” sounds nigh-impossible to get out of (and it is).

Often when I’m writing something, I’ll know exactly where I’m going, but not how to get there. I write in a linear fashion (apparently, most people don’t), so I need to write the book from start to finish to silence the screeching OCD monkey in my brain (I call him Heinrich). So there are times — quite a few of them, actually — where I’ll end up writing a crappy connecting scene between two scenes I know just to get to the next point in the story, with the logic being that I can come back and un-crapify that connecting scene later.

And most times, I can. Working the rest of the book usually gives me some insight at what should have happened in that connective tissue instead of the crap I put there. But then there are other times when, on the first revision, I come across a crappy scene with no idea how to fix it. I write it, I rewrite it, I walk away and have a coffee, I come back and rewrite some more. It’s not getting better. In fact, it’s getting worse with each successive rewrite.

Quicksand.

Failing a brave explorer or exasperated and put-upon explorer’s assistant to throw you a rope or find a long branch to reach your way, you’re probably not getting out of real-life quicksand (which, funfact, is a real danger on the moon — that wasn’t related to anything, I just thought it was cool). So how do you get out of the writer-type of quicksand?

I can no more tell you how to get out of that trap than I could have told America how to get out of the Vietnam War cleanly. I can only tell you what works for me, as I always do. And here it is: stop struggling. Walk away, and not just for a few minutes. Walk away for hours. Days if you have to. Take a nap. Walk the dogs (if you don’t have dogs, buy some and then walk them, or borrow dogs from a neighbor).

I wait until the background processes in my mind work out the problem. There’s almost always a solution, and sometimes it involves striking 12,000 words of text to make the new idea work. Sometimes it’s going back to an idea I already rejected and retooling it. But the thing that works for me is distance.

What about you, folks? When you hit that creative quicksand, how do you deal? Also, anyone ever seen actual quicksand? Where there leather-jacketed, fedora-wearing archaeologists just waiting in line to pull people out?

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