Clean Slate: Chapters and Bunny Trails


I used to hate writing in chapters. I could never figure out where the breaks should go.

Now I love it. Each chapter is a separate staging ground. I get to start with a blank slate over and over.

Since I’m not a planner, every first draft involves a whole lot of improvisation, and sometimes the scenes go places they shouldn’t. The pace bogs down, information becomes repetitive, and melodrama has way too much fun building the angst.

But I know what I want out of a chapter. Usually, I’ve figured that about the time I start writing. So however I lose control of the chapters, and they wander and meander down bunny trails, I can shoehorn them back to the point.

The result feels atrociously awkward and clunky, but it gives me the shape of a chapter. After all, once it’s on a page, it can be tweaked and revised.


Much of the writing will later change, but some will stay. Bunny trails – even the wrong ones – are an opportunity to lean more about the characters, or world, or plot. Sometimes they even help me discover crucial bits of story would have never developed, otherwise.

In the rough draft, however frustrated I feel about a chapter, the next one starts clean. I won’t worry about what came before because the point of it – generally set up by the opening and/or ending – is there. So rather than feeling like I’m writing mistake after mistake, piled atop more mistakes, each chapter starts anew.

I just wrote a chapter that grew beyond its point and felt like I had lost its thread. The point of it was there, but it was expanding into nonsense. So I ended it. (I’ve been known to stop chapters in the middle of sentences – even words. Rarely, but it has happened when there’s just no salvaging a bunny trail.)

The next chapter has a whole new purpose, so I started it there, rather than continuing from where I’d become lost. So now I have a clean start. I’ve left the frustration behind and can start again. Without the baggage.

The next chapter always makes its own baggage, anyway.


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