I have a couple of students working on short stories right now. They had great ideas and some good characters in mind. They started off with a bang! A couple of weeks later, though, they find themselves stuck in the danger zone. The beginning of the story has been written, but they have stalled out somewhere in the middle.
Coincidentally, both of them emailed me, saying: “I ran out of ideas for my story. Can we set it aside for now and work on something else?”
Well, that’s not a terrible plan (sometimes your ideas need time to incubate), but you do have to be careful. Setting aside stories can turn into a bad habit. You tell yourself it’s only temporary, but then you never really get back to working on those stories. Life is full of shiny distractions!
In both cases I wrote back and said, “Why don’t you skip ahead and write the end of the story?” Both students were excited by the idea. For some reason, they thought that you had to write a story from beginning to end, in the same way you would read one. No way! Sometimes you can start with a great ending and work your way back. This freed up their imaginations. Once they started working on endings, they found more ideas were coming to them about what could happen in the middle.
If you think about it, this makes sense. Imagine yourself in the middle of a big field laying down a railroad track. At every moment, you have to think, “Where does it go from here?” If, on the other hand, you walk across the field to the other side, and start laying down track over there, then you know that, somehow, you are going to have to connect the two. Now, you are thinking, “How do I get from here to there?” The answers start coming more easily, because it’s a matter of connecting the dots.
So, next time you are tempted to set aside a whole story (or an essay for that matter), don’t! Try skipping ahead or working on a different part.
Img credit: seine/harbour productions