How to write the way I want to write

So, I’m struggling through this first draft of a story. Trying to just get it all down. Each day I’m learning to give up a bit more control, and just let it be a haphazard mess. I’ll sort through it later, I tell myself. That’s what revision is for. But still, I feel the original intent of the piece fast receding. Even as I let go of the steering wheel, I’m quite literally driving my own protagonist off a cliff in the story.

It’s hard to balance focus—on a story, on an intention—with that creative imp that distracts me from my goal, yet leads me to new places. The new story is seventeen pages double-spaced so far, but all over the map. I’m finding the emotional core I had mentioned earlier, but am not sure how best to balance it with story, per se. So I’m just writing scenes, one after another, and seeing what works. It’s like building a Lego house by looking at the box and not the instructions. Except the image on the box has been covered up and the name of the object is the only thing written on it, and even that is smudged. So yeah: go ahead and make what’s inside the box. Good grief.

Another thing: I myself get bored reading stories that are too solipsistic and navel-gazing. It’s fascinating when it’s done really well, and I often learn something from it, but most often these moment-of-epiphany stories bore me. Yet here I am, writing one. So my impulse is to jazz it up, add some action, some forward motion. But then that seems layered and forced. So I step back and ask, “where IS the action in this?” Thus, the scene in which my protagonist drives home from work and is Thinking becomes a description of a mischievous Imp in the back of his mind—or the backseat of his car—and the Imp steers him off the road and down a steep embankment. I’m just writing, you know? Not trying to impose metaphor or control for tone at this point. And I wonder: is driving a character off a cliff a literary or psychological cliche? Would someone tell me if it was?

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  1. Check out “Story” by Robert McKee. I can’t recommend it enough. One of the things he emphasizes is that writers need tools to help them focus. Aesthetic limits, mantras on pieces of notebook paper.

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