Where Are You Going? Where Have You Been?

A common problem for creative writers, myself included, is that we get so deep into a project, we lose the ability to see it with any sort of objectivity. We throw down our quills, tear off our berets, and ask melodramatically whether the reader will “get” what we’re going for. It’s maddening! I don’t even have a name for this part of the writing process. When I try to talk about it, I just sort of flail my hands in front of me and say, “It’s just so… gray.” This is the point in the process where I know the story needs something, but I can’t put my finger on what. Nothing, nothing, nothing is more frustrating for me.

Some of this “gray” is simply a natural part of the relationship between writer and reader. Unless you find a way to port your brilliant novel directly into the brain of your intended audience (in which case, call me), something will be lost or found in translation. To read is to misread—though, hopefully, not by much.

Some of the gray comes from the relationship between a writer and the work. Inevitably, there’s a gap between vision and execution in any artistic endeavor. And that’s okay. Ambition is like a horizon line you can never quite reach—but the act of reaching means that you’re constantly moving and improving.

But when I’m in the midst of the gray, none of this bullshit philosophizing makes me feel any better. I just want to get out, and there’s only one course of action: grab a pair of outside eyeballs. (Ew. Not literally.) My favorite kind of reader is one who can assess and articulate what I have accomplished, and help me compare that with what I intended to accomplish. Once I can clearly see where I am, it’s a lot easier to figure out where I need to go.

What about you, writer-types? What do you do when you get stuck in the gray?