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Writing Can be Like Herding Cats

I've heard other writers talk about projects that refused to go in the direction they intended/wanted, and obviously I've had ideas morph from one thing to something slightly different. However, I never really thought I'd become a victim of this particular phenomenon since I'm a dyed-in-the-wool "pantser." I have never outlined anything I've written except when forced to do so in school (and even then I always wrote the paper and then back engineered the outline). I suspect it is a combination of however my brain is wired, and the fact that, to me, outlining spoils the fun. Why would I want to bother to write something when I already know what happens?

Don't get me wrong, I have written things with a vague idea of what happens, or else there was some sort of guiding principle keeping the thing on the rails. An example would be a short story cycle in which each section occurred on a day of the week and each had an overriding theme (love, loss, betrayal, hope, etc.). But sitting down to write it I had no idea what would happen within those guidelines. The first draft of anything I write is, very literally, me telling myself the story. Or more precisely, it's the characters doing stuff which I attempt to record accurately. That may sound insane to non-writers, but I have always maintained the only difference between myself and a woman in a padded cell on a Thorazine drip is that, for reasons known only to the Universe, I'm in charge of the voices in my head, while her voices are in charge of her. But when I say "in charge" I mean that in the loosest sense. The characters that meander around in my brain are fairly autonomous, and they aren't above 'arguing' with me when I want them to do something. Though it's never been this bad before.

A couple NaNoWriMo's ago I sat down and started writing something with only the following thoughts at the start:

What if a woman turning 40 - divorced, no kids, no family besides her cat - dead-end job that sucks the life out of her daily - having a slight midlife crisis - who has always loved crime/heist/police procedural books and shows ... decided to see if she could pull off a crime herself? And what if she did it, and it worked out? What if she liked it and left everything about her old life behind?

So that was all I started with. It was NaNoWriMo, so there was no pausing to think or time for editing, just mad fits of writing as much as I could. I decided early on that I felt like this should be a series of books, that I wanted her to become some kind of female Robin Hood, and maybe after a couple of books I'd give her a love interest, maybe. Then, with Me Too in the news constantly, she morphed in my head from Robin Hood to vigilante - she branched out from hacking banks to hacking abusive corporate scum (combining blackmail and hacking to drain them of every penny AND send them to jail).

Everything was going fine, and then she went and met a guy, fell in love, and had a baby (all in the first book!). And I know I should be all "women can do it all and have it all" - I am absolutely a feminist and every woman should make any life choice she wants. But I was really annoyed she did that. I was like, "No, you can't do that yet. This is not who you are right now. You're Robin Hood, remember? Or maybe The Equalizer. You are Wonder Woman. You are Xenia Warrior Princess, for Chirist's sake! What are you doing?!? You don't need a man, you don't have time for a kid - you're saving the world, stop being all normal and shit. I am trying to write a kick ass post-feminist-Me-Too-era-heroine and you're practically turning this into a romance novel!" Not to throw shade on romance novels. Between reading way too much Austen, Kierkegaard, Turgenev, and the Analects of Confucius as a teenager, even I was slightly addicted to Danielle Steel back in the day. But that wasn't, and isn't, what I was going for.

So, the first book of the intended series wrapped itself up nicely, and the second started writing itself with me still pissed off and vaguely resentful. I have since stopped working on the second and spent probably a year TRYING to rewrite the first book, but my MC flatly refuses. Everything I rewrite feels contrived, awkward, and bland - despite the fact I'm trying to remove the 'normalcy' from her life and put her in more extreme circumstances. She went someplace she wasn't supposed to, but the story, and the writing, are a thousand times better than my attempts at reworking it. Why has she done this to me, and what do I do with her? Do I shelve her? Do I publish her? Do I keep going and see where she goes before I decide? All I know for sure is that rewriting this is ruining it.

What do you do when your characters go completely rogue?

Do you silence them ... or do you just shut up and follow them???????

I have the sinking feeling that I need to let go of my intentions and just let her do her thing. Or maybe I'm just ready for the padded cell and the Thorazine, I've been expecting them for years now.


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