This morning I spent ten minutes wading into an old draft before I found myself stuck knee-deep in a swamp of convoluted thoughts and impenetrable prose.
It came as a surprise. Only a page earlier I’d been driving on a perfectly paved road, and I thought the road would take me uneventfully to the next page and into the next chapter, all the way to the end of the story.
But, no, somewhere along the road someone–um, that would be me--forgot to put up signs that warned the reader:
ROAD ENDS HERE
DANGER: ROAD UNDER CONSTRUCTION
DETOUR: SWAMP AHEAD!
There was no warning, although I should have suspected a problem yesterday afternoon when I nodded off at the wheel as I made my way through the previous chapter without realizing the road was disappearing beneath my feet.
Now I’m stuck in a swamp of sentences and paragraphs that don’t hold together, don’t carry the reader forward, the details unable to hold a reader’s attention on the page.
An emotional through-line, an underlying structure that holds the story together.
Without a solid structure, the story flounders–words go in all directions at once–and, as a reader, I feel adrift, as if I’ve lost my way.
Now I have to find my way again.
That means I need to retrace my steps, back to the beginning if necessary, to see where I left the road.
Somehow I’ll have to construct a new path–dig a new foundation, make sure the structure is level and firm and strong enough to sustain the weight of a reader’s curiosity.
I’ll need to collect the details in a different order, rework sentences so they lead me in a different direction, away from the swamp, toward solid ground.
It’ll be messy work tossing out pages, rewriting paragraphs, starting from scratch, digging, and then more digging. Perhaps weeks and months of digging.
I'll need to learn how to feel my way into the story again.
And this time I hope I’ll be able to carve a path that will carry me past the swamp to the end of the story.
If you find yourself stuck in a swamp, you might check out these sights to help you find your way to solid ground again: