How LTUE saved Christmas

HowMurraySavedChristmasOkay, perhaps it wasn’t that dramatic, but attending Life, the Universe, and Everything 2016 in Provo this past week has, once again, made a significant difference in my writing. Every year I’ve been has been wonderful, of course, but there have been a couple of specific occasions when it may have literally saved my writing career.

The first time was two years ago. I was halfway through a novel I had spent a year working on and getting nowhere. I was making progress with a sledgehammer, and everything just felt wrong. It was a struggle to get myself to write, and I nearly gave up. Instead I went to LTUE, and within the first two panels I had figured out what was wrong with my novel. I had over-outlined and, in the process, lost sight of what the story was about.

I ended up starting over on that novel, choosing a new beginning that focused more on the heart of the story, and within six months I had the entire novel finished. It’s probably my best writing to date.

This year things weren’t quite that extreme, but giving up on writing had occurred to me at least a few times in the past month. I’ve been world-building and planning for several months in order to really do the setting justice in this next project, and I had largely lost interest in the entire novel. Outlining had helped build a little enthusiasm, but when I started writing it just felt like…work. Nothing flowed. I felt like a hack.

Then I went to LTUE last week, and after the first two days I felt my enthusiasm returning. I could do this! But what I needed was to set that project aside and work on that YA paranormal romance that I jokingly said I was going to write as an April Fools gag last year, but later decided was actually a cool idea. I wasn’t really ready to write the other project. I could bury it for a few more years.

The breakthrough this time came not from a panel, but from a conversation with Julie Frost in the dealers room. We were discussing our various projects and she mentioned how an editor had told her once to either take one of her characters out of the novel or give it something to do. She ended up removing that character and finding the story was better for it.

The light clicked on. That was precisely the problem I was having with my new project I was just starting. I had convinced myself I needed certain characters in the novel, but in creating my outline I had failed to realize they weren’t really playing any important part in the story. I need to remove them or give them something to do.

Realizing that one thing felt like a weight had lifted. I had maneuvered myself into a corner again, thinking that just because I had begun planning with a specific idea in mind–in this case, what characters I needed–I had to continue on regardless of whether that idea was still what the story needed. The added freedom of realizing the story likely didn’t need those characters, and might be better off without them, made all the difference. I’m excited about that project again, and ready to try again.

Of course I now have the problem of having two projects I’m excited about and need to do. But hey, even LTUE can’t solve everything!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.