Writing In the Fog

This morning fog hung low outside my window hiding the sky and giving the trees across the street the hazy look of an impressionist painting. It was beautiful and comforting and slightly unnerving to be wrapped in clouds and mist, separate from a larger, clearer world.

When you’re blanketed by fog, there is no scenery, no long view, no full picture of your surroundings. It’s you and the immediate world in front of you. It’s the ultimate visual meditation–the fog shielding you from what lies ahead as well as preventing you from dwelling on what’s behind, both draped in a soft gray haze with only the present visible.

Sometimes, we need to surround our writing with a little fog. Or maybe a lot.

This morning, I was also working on the outline of my manuscript. Specifically, I was taking the outline of what exists and rewriting it into the outline of the book that COULD be. It’s a tricky business, ignoring all the words I’ve written into scenes with pretty images and punchy dialogue and fun subplots. Instead, I had to focus on the barest narrative thread to see where it failed to fulfill the story promise to the reader. It required a level of tunnel vision that can be hard to achieve when working on a full manuscript, but necessary for determining what needs to be on the page to make the strongest story.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way

EL Doctorow

Sometimes, the only way to approach your writing or your revision is to ignore the larger whole and focus instead on one element at time, whether that’s character motivation, story structure, stakes, or emotional arc of change. Pick one as your yellow line through the road of your story and follow it through your revision. Ignore the rest, the line edits, the pretty polishing, the distractions. It isn’t easy, but what about writing is? By focusing only on what was in front of me (the causal links between one scene and the next. In order. One at a time.), I was able to not only create an outline that I think will work for my story, but one that is now a road map for my revisions. This outline will guide me through my story’s journey and as a result, I should, if I keep my eyes on it, end up with a stronger story after this revision go round.

The fog can feel scary. Not knowing what is ahead or behind can be unnerving. It can be easy to want to stop and wait for it to lift. But you’ll miss the gifts in the fog. The quiet hush. The heavy, damp scent. The muted colors. The mystery. And ultimately, the wide, technicolor beauty when the sun finally reveals the world beyond.

You, writer, are the sun. Quietly working to burn off the excess and reveal that beauty of your story. Focus in those periods of fog and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Your story is waiting for you on the other side.

Featured photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Published by Monica Cox

Monica is a writer and book coach who helps writers get unstuck so they can reach their writing goals.

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