Being a Better Writer: Don’t Rush

Just a heads up, there may be a skipped BaBW post in the coming weeks, as I work to get Colony ready for release. Scheduling, time in a day, and all that.

In a manner that is somewhat fitting, I picked today’s topic because it’s one that I can rush through, so that I can get back to work on Colony all the quicker now that the weekend is over. I get the irony; I’m rushing through a post on not rushing. And since I’ve already laughed at it, don’t feel ashamed for snickering. It is ironic.

Anyway, in the spirit of that rushing, let me dive right into things and get to the crux of what I’m talking about today. Don’t rush, after all, could probably be pushed into a number of writing areas, from editing to brainstorming. And yes, it applies to all of those areas as well. You see evidence of this from time to time.

But today I’m going to talk about one of the more common “rushes” I see made, especially with younger writers. Go to a writing class in a college somewhere, or hop online and take a look a fanfiction (if you dare) and you’re going to find this issue in spades.

The rush to the ending.

This is a problem that plagues a lot of young writers. They sit down, plan out their story, and it’s cool. They’re excited and ready to work.

So they do. They write out the first chapter/chunk. And it’s going great. They’re building everything up, feedback is good, and their excitement builds. So they write the second bit. More careful building, more feedback, and the excitement builds again. Ditto for the third piece, and so on and so forth.

But somewhere along the way the excitement gets to be a little bit too much, and something happens. The writer gets caught up in the excitement of all that they’re doing … but also in the excitement of what’s coming. And that excitement begins to override what they’re doing. The positive feedback, their own eagerness … it adds up, and it makes the writer all the more excited to get things to the conclusion/twist/big moment that they’ve been working towards.

And, without even realizing it, they start shortchanging the parts of the story that they’re currently working on. The writing becomes choppier, the pacing creaks, descriptions get overlooked. Everything becomes, well, rushed, as this writer, out of excitement, pushes to get to what are them the best moments of the story.

And everything else falls to the wayside.

I’ve seen this happen time and time again. The writer, in their enthusiasm, starts seeing what they’re working on at the moment as something that’s in the way, something between them and their goal (this isn’t usually conscious, mind you, but unconscious). And so their focus drifts. Their attention wanes. They want to be at the end, not on the “boring” bits in the middle.

The problem? Those “boring bits” are what give the ending any relevance, weight, or excitement at all. And so, after this writer has rushed through the middle parts in the their haste to reach the excitement, they often find that either A) the excitement isn’t there, or B) the audience isn’t there, having been driven away by the middle parts of a story that wasn’t given enough time or attention.

So what happened? Well, when they started shortchanging their writing to get to that ending, the care and attention to detail that the rest of the story needed started to fall at the wayside. Details became rushed. Prose became sloppy. They may have developed a sudden tendency to slip into tell over show in order to speed through a scene. What would have been several paragraphs of characters discussing their differences, giving the reader insight into what makes them tick and how they view the world, becomes a single paragraph that “summarizes” the event or skips from start to finish with no attention given to the “meat” of their discussion.

Now, look. I could go in depth on all of the different ways that this can happen, but truth be told, that’d basically be a list of most of the things I talk about in these posts, from pacing to prose to proper character development.

So rather than talk about each one of those, because that would take all day, and the writer should be thinking about those already, I’m going to target the cause: the rushing.

To be plain and simple about it: Don’t. Because that’s where the real root of the problem lies. Every time that I’ve seen this issue rise in a story, it’s not because the author of the piece didn’t understand pacing, character development, worldbuilding, or any of that on a decent level. Like I said, rushed stories usually start out well. This particular problem is because the author starts rushing and all that care and attention to detail they gave their early chapters stops.

In other words, temper yourself. Keep in mind that an ending only matters to readers because of what comes before it. Any ending, or even climax, is only made impactful by the sum of the elements that both go into it and come before it.

For instance, I can write a cool, kick-butt action sequence where a protagonist is throwing down with an antagonist. Let’s say it’s a gun battle in an expensive, mostly-glass restaurant. So there’s plenty of things breaking, lots of glass reflections to keep things tense, etc. Sounds pretty neat, doesn’t it? And yeah, that could be a pretty fun scene.

But where’s the investment? What’s at stake? What consequences are there if the protagonist fails? We don’t know. And the investment is lessened as a result.

Now take that same fight scene and put it at the end of a book. Make the protagonist and antagonist siblings. Make the glass restaurant the site of a meeting between the antagonist and some shadowy organization that they’re willing to work with in order to sell the only vial of an experimental treatment for a disease that could save thousands. And this scene marks the first time that the antagonist and protagonist have ever gone past shouting at one another—or in other words, the ultimate crossing of the line. Once one of them fires at the other, the bridge is burning.

Hey, suddenly this battle scene is a lot more intense. While before it was all “Ooh, aah, cool gunshots and breaking glass,” now the same can be said, but with it are elements of “Will these two cross that bridge? Who’s going to get their hands on the treatment?” There’s weight behind the event going in.

Now, is all that worth getting excited for? Yes, certainly it is. Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying that a writer shouldn’t be excited about what they’re writing. To the contrary. You should be. Love what you do. I love ending my books with big, climactic finishes, final battles, and twists that flip everything the reader knew so far on its head.

But at the same time, I, like so many other authors, have to write carefully to make sure that my excitement and interest in getting to those big events doesn’t catch me short-changing the journey to that point.

Is this difficult to do? Well, no, not really. The trick is in acknowledging the issue. Recognizing the “rush” for what it is and reminding one’s self to take a step back and not overextend their own enthusiasm.

That’s really all there is to it. It’s a pretty simple fix. Awareness of one’s own work is all it really takes to keep from finding yourself in a situation where you’ve “rushed” ahead.

The catch—and the reason this happens at all—is because so many only learn this lesson by personal experience of trial and error with their own work, rather than in a writing class. Despite the “rush” being a problem I see plaguing many young writers, very rarely have I even heard another author discuss it, let alone actually sit down and explain what it is and why we should work to avoid it.

Now, how can you tell if you’re fallen into this trap? Simple: Keep an eye on what you’re writing … and also keep an eye on what you’ve written. If you find yourself thinking “I just wish I could skip all this stuff and get to the ending” as you’re writing a piece, check back over what you’ve written and make sure you haven’t fallen into this trap. You may get lucky and find that you were feeling this way because what you’ve put together actually isn’t that core to the story when you look at it … but you may also find that you’ve been paying less attention than you should have to what you were just working on, distracted by your own ending.

So don’t. Don’t let your ending distract you from the task at hand. Don’t let your focus slip. Keep your objective set on that distant, awesome moment, but your eyes on the path to it that lies in front of you.

Like the old saying goes, don’t be so caught up in the destination that you neglect the journey. The excitement is good, but use it to make sure that the grand ending you envision is similar to the one the reader gets—with every bit of build-up that made it so for you.

Don’t rush, neglecting some portions of your story for others. Give the whole thing equal, attentive care.

Good luck. Now get writing. See you next week!

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