When DID You Stop Beating Your Story?

All writers beat their stories. 

Don’t give me that look; they do. Any writer who wants to be read, who doesn’t keep the stories to himself and tries (oh how hard he tries) to find an audience, that writer will beat and be beaten by his stories, often simultaneously. Whether or not he rises again after the beatings will determine the future.

Is he a writer?

Or was he?

Most people are writers for a season. Like the chorus of a song, writing pops up again and again in life. You’re going along and then…BAM. Something makes you dig in your heels and write. Maybe you took a class and the teacher petted you. Maybe you wrote a facebook post that got lots of likes and people were moved by your words.

Then something else happens, maybe your first form rejection or your partner didn’t fall over from the sheer genius of your words (because maybe she couldn’t understand them???) and…BAM. You’re done with this fool’s errand. There’s Netflix binging to be done. You’ve fallen way behind.

For some, the writing hiatus is a day or two. For others, it’s decades. I stopped writing while I homeschooled my four children. I didn’t have the patience. It was either kill my little people or kill my little dream. And also, I had probably been recently rejected.  

In writing, beats are shifts, pauses, or pivots. A beating in writing is cause for a writer to shift, pause, or pivot. 

I pulled this from Donald Maass, who pulled it from Robert McKee: [A beat is] the smallest element of story structure. There are acts, sequences, scenes and beats, which are noticed when characters adopt distinctively different behaviors, showing a clear change in their actions or reactions.

How many people I’ve met who were writers, who want to be writers, who have something to say, but…they’ve been beaten by their stories. Or rather, by the fact that their stories aren’t clamored over. That no one is beating down their door asking, please, please give us more of your creative mind. 

Hemingway said: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. Well, he’s wrong. Nobody uses typewriters anymore.

Can I say I hate the new WordPress editor so much I’ve allowed it to prevent me from posting up until today? Ah…Atomic Habits, there you are. The smallest things can interrupt our flow or open the firehose of productivity. You could say the new WordPress editor was a beat in the story of my life. I had to pivot. Do I keep writing posts, or not? 

So here it is, the reason for this post: to share with you this list of beats, what your readers should be experiencing as they pore over your stories. These are some examples from Donald Maass’ post on Writer Unboxed (click the link for the whole list and article). I found them to be surprising and helpful, and I plan to use them in my Little Red Writing Hoods group. That way I can beat other writers’ stories, too. 

Ooo…burn!

Truth!

Ouch!

Grr…

The plot thickens…

Uh-oh, that’s not good!

Whoa, creepy!

Yikes, didn’t see that coming!

You’re kidding!

Ah-ha, I knew it!

What are we going to do now?

Hold on, I have an idea…

Watch out, he’s right behind you!

Run!

Hurry, hurry, hurry!

Don’t go in there!

Too late!

Oh-no!

Guilty!

Not guilty!

Baby, I got this!

Booyah!

Wha-wah…

Well, it was worth a try…

Don’t give up!

There’s still hope!

No good deed…

How dare you!

He’s lying!

You’re going to regret that!

Shame on you!

(Cringe)

Ain’t that ironic!

Huh, I never saw it that way before…

You’re not who I thought you were…you’re less!

You’re not who I thought you were…you’re more!

Aww, so sweet!

My assignment for you would be to read whatever you’re writing and see if you can spot the beats. If you don’t have many beats, start beating your story. Don’t hold back.

9 thoughts on “When DID You Stop Beating Your Story?

  1. peglovesjesus

    Kelly, you’re not who I thought you were…you’re more!
    About a week ago, I again asked God, “Do you still want me to write?” It’s something I ask regularly when I take a beating. The very next day, He answered, “Yes!” the when a request came for my writing. Possible blog coming soon…

    1. Oh my gosh. My novel. I have perpetual smoke coming out of my ears. But. I have a new office space, thank you COVID, and at least I’m comfy while I pay the price of being a pantser.

      1. Comfy is good. Yeah, pantsing is so fun–discovery, discovery–until you find you’ve gone down the wrong rabbit hole. Far, far down. Fingers crossed we both find our ways back. Here’s to a light at the end of the tunnel–maybe?

  2. My husband uses a typewriter for some of his writing, he says it’s a different creative process and produces different things to when he uses a computer. One of my friends, who I coauthored a textbook with, wrote her chapters by hand, in pen, before typing them up.

    1. Yes! When I do freewriting with my students, we use pen and paper. It is a different feel, and I’m sure it affects the end result. I don’t like how long it takes to hand write letters though. I just recently gave in and began typing in “ink” font. Haha. Thank you for commenting!

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