Writing is a Bad Habit: Wrestling with Preconceptions

Today was the day I began writing the final two books in the two trilogies I have been working on and I found, as I usually do, the beginning of the books to be the hardest.  There is a particular reason for that and it’s something I realized would make for good material for a blog post so … here we are.  The thing I run into most when beginning a new piece, especially one that is a continuation of an earlier work, is wrangling with the possible preconceptions that my readers have.

It is just human nature for a reader to begin to think about the future of the book’s (or the series’) plot and the outcome of the entire thing.  Often, we form our thoughts about those things based on preconceptions and ideas gleaned from other similar works and genres.  It’s how our minds work, helping to sort so many different facts by categorizing and sorting them by similarities and differences.  For me as a writer, and possibly for others, there is a trap in those preconceptions.

If our plots run directly along those lines of thought, those tropes and plot devices, readers may think the whole thing is simply a stale retread of previous works.  As artists and creators, we want our works to be distinctive, to stand on their own, and not be so linked to other works in the same genre that we simply copy what has been done in the past.   On the other hand, preconceptions are not all bad and they aren’t all rote.  Tropes, plot devices, and archetypes are there for a reason … they often represent points of connection to the human experience.  Just as staying to close to them can lead to boredom and unoriginality, radically departing from them or excessively deconstructing them can lead to a sense of wrongness and bad logic to your work.

It seems to me that it is a constant dance we have to deal with as authors, fulfilling enough of our readers’ preconceptions to make them happy while changing or reconstructing enough of them to keep those same readers off-balance and entertained by originality.  That’s the tightrope I find myself fussing over at the start of a new book and I’m fussing over it now.

Oh well, at least it usually passes in a day or two!

Do you feel that same tension when you write a new piece, especially a sequel?  What tools do you use to help get around it?  Talk about it in the comments below!

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4 comments

  1. I get around first-page stress by not beginning with the beginning. Now, the first thing I happened to write for my WIP does resemble a first chapter, but I’m not sure if that’s where it will stay. I may start the book with a different POV character. But I skipped around when writing when writing the first novel, and I’m doing the same with this one, so I’m comfortable with not knowing yet whether the chicken or the egg will come first.

      1. My writing also has a diurnal rhythm: I mostly revise during daylight, and compose new material at night. I write what I feel like writing, so I never feel blocked.

        Non-writers don’t necessarily understand this, however. I recall being asked how the first book was going, and I replied that I’d written X number of words, and had edited Y number of words elsewhere. The person then remarked, “So, you’re not making any progress.” I showed this friend my chapter spreadsheet and its bar graph, but I doubt that it cleared up anything. Folks whose last composition was probably a secondary school book report, don’t seem to have a clue as to how writing works in the real world.

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