Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Going-Back-to-the-Beginning Syndrome

I’m reading a good book called “The Plot Whisperer” by Martha Alderson. She brings out an interesting phenomenon called Going-Back-to-the-Beginning Syndrome.

I’ll bet you can guess what that is.

We get a new story idea and off we go. However, after completing a few chapters, we realize the beginning needs work. So we go back and work on it.


And again.

And again.

Months or years slip by. The novel never progresses.

Why do we continually migrate back?

Of course there’s procrastination and perfectionism, but those are caused by psychological road-blocks. Would you like to hear a few? (I'm paraphrasing from "The Plot Whisperer".)

  1. The beginning of the project is introductory. We present the setting, the characters, the mood, the issues and all the other important dynamics of the story. We are in control—and being in control at the beginning sounds far superior to being out of control in the middle and the end, places where you must dig deeply into emotions.
  2. In the middle of a story, things get messy as the relationships between the characters develop. Scenes show them as they truly are—warts and all. For writers who like things nice and neat, the middle is an uncomfortable place to linger. It’s much nicer to return to familiar territory.
  3. Going back over what you have already written is easier than coming up with something new.
  4. The middle of the story requires twice as many scenes as the beginning or the end. Each scene in the middle shows, on a progressively deeper level, who the character truly is. If that’s not hard, I don’t know what is.
  5. The energy throughout the middle is more intense than in the beginning, because the protagonist is more rigorously blocked from reaching his/her goals.
  6. Bad things happen in the middle. If you’re in love with your characters, you’ll instinctively be reluctant to let any of these things happen.
       In real life, many of us shy away from disaster and drastic upheaval in order to protect ourselves from deep loss. We don’t want to treat our characters any differently. Once things get rough, we long for the good old days at the beginning of our story, where things were smooth, happy, and superficial.

What can we do about it?

  1. Stop worrying. It won’t be perfect the first time. Writing a “slop-on-the-page” rough draft is preferable to no progression.
  2. Identify your writing strengths and weaknesses. Take a few minutes and think. What makes you love writing? What makes you hate it? What freezes you up? If you can figure it out, you can make a plan of attack. See:  http://thescribblerscove.blogspot.com/search?q=waxing+the+cat 
  3. Use discipline and structure. Compensate for your weaknesses and embrace your strengths.
  4. Start writing whatever words come to you. That’s why you started writing in the first place, isn't it – taking an enthralling thought and putting it on the page?
  5. Push forward, even (and especially) when the writing gets uncomfortable.
  6. Follow through to the end. Until you write the entire story, you do not know what belongs to the beginning. Once the skeleton is in place, you can stand back and see the story in a new light. One benefit of writing a truly awful, lousy, no good first draft is that it can only get better from there.
Not much beats a first full draft, even though it's so raw it’s crawling with flies.

However, it’s there. It’s created.

Yes, it’s begging you to get a it personal trainer and a serious make-up job.

So onward. No more excuses. No more working on the same portion for ten years. Embrace the muscle-tightening terror of the murky middle and, if you’re crazy enough, do a NaNoWriMo and press through. The rewards are worth it.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and FINISH that story! 


  1. Thanks for that great post, Jonene! Is this possibly why I continue to linger at the beginning of my writing career, this comfortable place of pre-publication where I have no deadlines, no expectations, and very little risk?

    1. Rebecca, I ended up asking myself lots of questions, too, and yes, the desire to remain in a comfortable place was my answer, also. It's very hard to move out of that place.

  2. When I signed my first mortgage papers, I was terrified. I couldn't sleep all night. When I got my first full manuscript request I was even more terrified. I didn't sleep for three nights.

  3. Lol: "so raw it's crawling with flies"

    Cheers to the ugly first draft! Thanks for the post. Pinpointing our fears is the biggest step toward defeating them.

  4. : )

    Yes, indeed! It's amazing how tough it is to admit we're scared, and even tougher to find out the cause.

  5. I always want to go back to the beginning. It's like a compulsion. It's helped me ponder on the whys behind that urge. Thanks for that. :)


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