I’m in Denver for the #RWA18 National Conference. I think this sculpture of the dancing ladies is particularly appropriate.
This week’s topic at the SFF Seven is Why do you abandon a project? What would make you (or let you) finish it? Come on over to read more! Also, a new podcast episode below: First Cup of Coffee – July 15, 2018.
In the mornings, we get up at six o’clock, get dressed for the gym and leave the house via the garage. This means that, blearily stumbling about as I’ve been – not a chipper morning person – the moment we hit the button to raise the garage door is my first real sight of the day.
This time of year, it’s right at the onset of sunrise and what a spectacular sight it is.
There’s something about the dimness of the garage, the way the heavy door lifts, with its cranking motor, that reminds me of a theater curtain – that unveils the large screen of this.
The outside comes in and steals my breath away.
It’s an amazing way to start my day and I treasure that.
I value so much about my daily life and am truly blessed to have it. Our daily routine is dull by most standards. Most days I don’t leave our property except to go to the gym. I love each phase of my day, from the kitties walking across my pillow when the alarm goes off to ensconcing myself in my reading chair at night with a glass of wine. The sun shines, flowers bloom, rains fall, the sun sets and rises again. It’s a good rhythm. A long-term cycle.
All through this, my steps seem to be set by the words I lay down in whatever I’m writing. I mark the passage of time by the change of seasons and the accumulation of word count. Writing a novel is an exercise in this kind of patience, I’ve found. For long periods of time – days and weeks and months – the the project continues. Every day I add a little more and track my progress. But it’s incremental and I can’t worry about it feeling like it’s taking forever because it takes as long as it takes.
That’s one of the keys to understanding novel-writing. Patience, persistence and endurance.
Until, suddenly, I’m near the end.
That’s where I am now. On Tears of the Rose, Book 2 of The Twelve Kingdoms, I’m at 84, 502 words. I’d originally thought it would end up around 85K, but once I dug in, once I judged the pace and length of Act I, in fact, it became clear that the first draft would top out around 98K. Writing about 2,000 words per day, as I am now, that means I’ll be done in a week.
And I’m filled with all kinds of odd, restless energy.
It’s as if, now that I can see the city on the horizon, I’m no longer satisfied with traveling 65 mph. I want to go faster and to hell with a speeding ticket. I want to drive all night, just to get there already.
I’m filled with impatience for everything else.
News articles – from frivolous to searingly serious – irritate me. People post jokes that I find facile, ridiculous or even infuriating. Every Facebook and Twitter post I see seems to elicit a snarky response from me and I have to stop looking, because I’m afraid I’ll lapse and actually type one of these comments. Even pics of cute baby animals annoy me.
It’s like I become a total sociopath.
I sometimes think that if I were a full time writer, I would take myself and my last 15-20K and just lock myself in a remote cabin or beach house somewhere. Which I find bewildering, because I love my beautiful, peaceful home and the life we have in it, with our lovely daily rhythms.
Somehow, though, this process of completing the book – which means the ending, because I write my stories from beginning to end, no jumping about – absorbs so much of my thoughts and mental energy, that I snarl at anything else impinging on it.
Also, I’m pretty sure I write a post like this every time.
You all are lovely to put up with me, really.
So, the Good News? I finished the book!!!!
(Cue screams of joy from fans and various expressions of relief and eyerolling from family and friends.)
The Bad News?
Wow, am I tired!
Not really physically tired, just emptied out. It’s really amazing, this writing-a-novel thing – it really does feel like running a marathon. (Or so I presume, not being the kind of gal who has EVER run a marathon.) Even working at a measured and even pace, by the end it feels like I’m creating an enormous soap bubble. Every day I add a bit more air, expanding it, steadying it, letting it grow larger and larger. And in the final days, I detach it from my wand and it floats away, leaving me hollow.
It’s a peculiar feeling. It’s like I have no thoughts at all.
If I could – and maybe one day when I get organized about this writer gig, I will – I’d plan for a week-long vacation post-deadline. I’d love to just go hang by a pool somewhere, order drinks from cabana boys and let myself gradually refill.
At any rate, that’s all I’ve got in me for a blog post today. I looked at my long list of very interesting potential topics and my writing brain did that thing like when your car battery is nearly dead. It kind of started to turn over, sputtered and went quiet.
Somebody send cabana boys. Stat.
Last week, B.E. Sanderson, frequent commenter here, had a post on her blog about finishing manuscripts. She’s been doing a lot of interesting posts lately aimed at aspiring writers. This one caught my attention because, hello! Star Trek and science references. I ended up commenting, too, which I don’t seem to do all that much of anymore.
I’ve become the blog-lurker your marketing-advisor warned you about.
At any rate, the discussion was about what to do when you hit that point in your novel where you just don’t want to write it anymore. Every writer has a place where this tends to happen – and for a lot of writers, it’s somewhere around the 30K mark. Worse, it’s very likely that you’ll be tempted at this point to pursue the New Shiny. You’ll get this Fabulous Idea for an even better novel. The temptation to ditch that 30K brick and write the New Shiny will be extreme.
And, if you do this, the New Shiny will be all kinds of rewarding. Until, oh, around the 30K mark. Then guess what?
Exactly. This is why so many hopeful authors have half-finished novels lurking on their hard drives.
I make this distinction, between a hopeful author and a publishing author, because – and I know this is simple logic, but here it is, just to be clear – in order to be a published author YOU MUST FINISH THE BOOK.
Yes, yes, yes – there’s a whole lot more to getting published than that. But we all know this is the first step. Nothing else happens without it.
So, here’s a little list of things to remember about finishing the book.
- The New Shiny is an illusion. That idea is the greener grass on the other side of the fence. It’s the nubile young girlfriend. In the end, it won’t make you any happier than the manuscript you’ve been married to. Write it down and save it for later.
- Apropos of that? Ideas will keep. It may not feel like it, in the rush of inspiration, but once it comes to you, it’s yours. Write down whatever you need to so that you can reconnect with it again in the future. You know what they say about True Love – if he really loves you, he’ll wait.
- There’s a reason why it’s always the same place for you. It comes out of you and how you deal with the world. This is like the guy who always dates women who need rescuing or the gal who ends up in dead-end jobs where she’s treated like a doormat. Growing as a person means solving this problem. So if you have trouble getting started, look at what else in your life you have trouble starting. Other people can never finish stuff. Then practice overcoming this barrier – your own personal three-minute mile. Train, persevere – know that you can do it.
- There’s also a reason why it’s so often the 25-30K mark for so many writers. If you figure a typical novel is 80-120K, then 20-30K is the first 25%. In story structure, even if you think you’re not using it, the first 25% is Act I. In the classic Boy-Meets-Girl/Boy-Loses-Girl/Boy-Gets-Girl-Back scenario, you’ve finished the meeting. In the hero’s journey (get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, get him down again), you will have gotten your characters into a major predicament. It’s a natural ending spot. Intermission. Now what?
- There’s the rub. The “now what?” part is one of the hardest parts. Thus the oft-referenced “sagging middle” of many stories. See, in classic story structure, Act II takes up a full half. It stretches from about the first 25% up to around 75%. It is the bulk of your story. That’s a lot of rock-throwing. We’ve all read those books that start out great and then, somewhere in the middle, we get bored. We might put it down and never finish. We kind of wonder where the whole thing is going. But then (hopefully!) it starts to pick up again and it gallops on to a rollicking finish. This is why.
- So, what do you do? Reference #3. Practice. Keep going. Yes, it’s a slog. Complain to your writer friends and they will nod in sympathy and offer you cookies. Then get back to work. For me, if I understand why I want to stop, that makes it easier to keep going.
- Now here’s a cookie for you: once you get through the long slog, you will start to have fun again. All that promise and joy the New Shiny offered? This is EVEN BETTER. The ride to the end will feel like that last downhill swoop on the log ride with a huge splash of water at the end. So much so that, as you hit that final save, you’ll want to get right back on and do it again.
Now, get back to it!