It’s character-building, but not like Lego. Things fall apart, especially when you’ve underestimated the gravitational field needed by your core premise. The worst stage is not the start; it’s that moment some 23 516 words in when you realise the only way for your plot to go is down. Do you abandon everything, or push on despite knowing that the best possible outcome is a chimera bedecked with a cowboy’s Stetson and the war-painted sinews of an Amazon? Not everyone lives with a book inside of them, and your career prospects are probably better doing a thesis. Bifurcation is only humorous with snap-to-fit parts.
The answer is you relinquish control. The difference between being a kid and writing is that in the play-pen, figures can’t assemble themselves. At some point, I realised my characters were talking back to me. “There is simply no way I am going to do that,” they would accost me; “do you even know me?” If I tried to force them my will, they’d just sneer (or in one case, throw a tampon) at me and continue acting unaccordingly. After a while, I realised they were right. Sometimes they even question their fundamental state of being. “Less Stetson, more decapitation.” “You should give me longer branches.” “I shall sniff this tampon!” If I’m the divinity that shapes their ends, then God help us all. Generally, things tend to work out just as they should.
Practical lessons are the most effective. My writing is particularly minimalist because I like to give my characters their privacy. Sometimes the most important bit has to come after the ending, which is when you do a Tolstoy and write short stories instead. Aiming for realism in a novel is the best way to bore yourself and your characters. I don’t have many cuts in my stories because home-movies make me vertiginous, but when I do they’re usually decapitations. Let your characters do what they want and don’t expect them to be perfect, because are you? Clean bifurcation is only natural to zygotes and stock options. Not everyone lives inside a book, but you can look after the ones who do.