This post continues on from Part I.
REDUCING MY FEAR OF INADEQUACY
“Get to the end of your manuscript and THEN worry about the quality. If you can master the art of powering through to the end of your story, you are on your way.”
Writing with less structure has helped to reduce my fear of ensuring everything I write is word-perfect first draft round. (January’s Bad Habit One.) While the rational part of my mind knows this is impossible, the irrational part plainly ignores it.
This wasn’t something I intentionally worked on. I simply persevered, trusting that the quality of my writing wouldn’t matter until the drafting stage.
I believe this approach to writing has helped me to loosen up. To shift some of the pressure. The woolly threads I pull on aren’t burdened by any sense that they have to appear in a later draft. When adhering to the structure of a plan, there is that burden. That because I’ve said it would happen, I therefore have to make it happen.
Even if a scene isn’t entirely deleted, it may still be reduced by summary or dialogue later on. For now, I’m happy to follow the story and worry about what goes where when I have a fuller picture.
As a result, this has also helped me overcome January’s Bad Habit Two, replicating a voice that isn’t my own.
I’m really starting to believe that some parts of a story can’t be planned. (Or, at least, they can be over planned.) That the story needs to come out of the writing. It’s a joy to discover new parts of your fictional world when your character does. Although I’m working with a rough structure [e.g. Act One leads to an inciting incident—usually the conflict or opportunity which starts the “true beginning of the story”], I think that the real sense of structure will come out of later drafting.
As such, I’ve even found writing without chapter numbers to be a great benefit. At the moment, I mark every new chapter with a #. I’ve come to realise there’s no point worrying about a chapter’s number, let alone its title. Since my story is told through multiple POV, the chapter order is likely to change—and not all will survive the drafting.
Being less concerned about the structural details allows me to focus better on the story. It’s a grisly cliche, but I’m now able to lose myself in the story. At this stage, that’s exactly what I want. The structure can come later, once I have a better idea of how the overall story will look.
“Write with passion and conviction—with love.”
I made no conscious effort to adapt my writing routine. Rather, it has come around from listening to my body. It helped a lot that I could give full days to my writing throughout April.
I now write in three blocks: an hour or two in the morning, with a break for a dog walk and lunch, followed by five to six more in the afternoon, with a break for exercise in-between.
Some days I’ll return to my laptop after dinner, if I still think there’s some woolly thread that needs pulling on, though I try to stop by eight at the latest. (I take the same approach to weekends; I actually find time away from the laptop can be just as valuable as time in front of it.)
In the morning, I’ll either follow my most recent thread, or lightly read what I’d written the day before and make minor corrections. And I actually do mean minor. I’ve managed to overcome January’s Bad Habit One of reading and re-reading what I’ve written and drafting and re-drafting it, before repeating and re-repeating the process.
THE DREADED WORD COUNT
“Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
In the past, I’ve found word count targets to be counter-productive. Not only are they stressful, but they can undermine your sense of achievement when you produce writing that you’re actually proud of. It can feel like a good—even a great—day, until you notice you’re 300 words short.
It’s surprising how quickly that sense of achievement disappears, yet I imagine it’s something all first-time writers must survive on. For that reason, I’ve found that word counts are better measured over weeks or months, as that helps to average out the days. Suddenly those “under-performing” days become a lot less significant.
Although I can say that now, it didn’t stop me from developing Bad Habit Three midway through March. That’s when I started to meticulously word-watch. It got to the point where at the turn of April I had to ban myself from checking the word count. [Since I use Google Docs, the word count is not displayed at the bottom of the screen, like in Word, but is available to view under the Tools tab.] While this was initially hard, I now only look at my word count at the end of the week.
This has really benefited my writing.
I would even say it’s contributed to my feeling like I’m at a good place with my writing. The good days have vastly outnumbered the bad, likely because my efforts haven’t been undermined by a number.
At the moment, I have a loose aim of writing 1,000 words a day, or 4,500 a week. That allows me four good writing days and one not-so-good writing day. It reduces pressure and stress, whilst providing me with a vague target to aim for.
Since adopting my wait-and-see approach*, I’ve surpassed that vague target each week:
By the end of March I’d written 43,045 words (up by 13,714 words).
By the end of April I’d written 62,479 words (up by 19,434—now that’s more like it).
Out of the current total, probably half will be deleted. As I said in Part I, drafting sheds words, scenes and sometimes even entire chapters. There are several scenes which I have written multiple times from different perspectives. This was to help me find the best way to tell certain parts of the story. Once I settle on the appropriate viewpoints, this will further reduce the word count.
None of this worries me. I’m starting to understand that it’s all part of the process.
[*My brain bypassed this when working out three typed pages was equal to around a thousand words, depending on the amount of dialogue and description—the former produces less words, while the latter produces more. I’ve since tried to avoid this by not referencing where I start from in the morning.]
WORRYING ABOUT TIME
“Don’t try to find shortcuts—a lasting career only comes from learning the craft and working hard to perfect it.”
—Orson Scott Card
Aside from providing a sense of progress, word counts are frivolous. (Although that sense of progress, especially towards the start of writing, should not be neglected. It is fuel.) Another thing (say hello to Bad Habit Four) that I’ve had to accept over the past couple of months is that there’s little point worrying about how long writing Everborne will take me. (At least not yet.)
It will take as long as it will take, it’s as simple as that.
Worrying about this is only wasted, negative energy. When it comes to time spent writing, I’ve started to look less at what is behind me and more at what lies ahead. That direction excites me.
I have a rough two-year plan, and that for now is enough.
It’s only as I write this post that I realise how important April in particular has been for me.
Overcoming Bad Habit Four, choosing not to focus on the word count daily, and pulling woolly threads have allowed me to focus on what truly matters:
Writing the story and enjoying it.
Not only has this made me feel more positive, it’s allowed me to pursue that positivity further and to keep going with it.
Positivity breeds positivity. I just hope it doesn’t become infertile.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
—Stephen King (of course)
Reading, along with writing and exercise, has always been part of my writer’s Holy Trinity. It’s something I try to do for at least an hour every day. Other than the sheer enjoyment of it, I think King’s words best sum up why.
I was as much thrilled to read seven books in March as I was devastated to read just one in April. At least I discovered the reason for my “insomnia” (see the Time Magazine quote):
[To be fair, at a whopping 300K words, this book really is the length of three or four!]
In the last couple of weeks, reading has unintentionally taken a backseat. This has been mostly due to:
- Writing in the evenings (thus taking up time I’d otherwise spend reading)
- My wandering mind
I shouldn’t complain. Both are good problems to have.
What I mean by my wandering mind is this: when I sit down for my half-hour morning read, I manage to get a few pages in before my mind starts to whir with new thoughts about Everborne. Like bubbles trapped in the seabed, they begin to rise to the surface.
It’s not long before my concentration is commandeered by these thoughts and I’m sat at my laptop, ready to write.
As I say, it’s a good problem to have; I’d much prefer it to a barren mind. It only means I need to find time for reading elsewhere.
“Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:
1. The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.
2. The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.”
—Orson Scott Card
No quote about writing has ever felt so true to me.
Despite everything that’s been going on the past couple of months, I’m feeling good about Everborne. Negativity has gone wandering. I’m actually believing in and excited about what I’m writing and where the story is going. I may not be as far down the path as I would like, but at least I’m on it—and on the right one, at that.
Writing can be a very lonely undertaking, especially when I’m secretive about what I’m working on. It can be tough. Sometimes the words just don’t form the way I need them to. Efforts can feel fruitless. Or as if there isn’t much to show for them. Since I’m not yet ready to show those efforts, there isn’t the chance for another person’s reassurance—and I’m someone who thrives (maybe, survives) off of reassurance.
I’m often too hard on myself. While I can admit that now, it takes me a while to see it in the first place and it never stops me from repeatedly doing it. I’m quick to criticise, but slow to praise. So it’s important to recognise these moments. To pause, to think and to be proud.
And I am proud of what I’ve achieved these past two months. I’ve been telling myself to persevere. To keep going. Between now and the start of March, I feel like I’ve made huge progress. I’ve made even more, when I glance back at the posts of the previous few months.
I’m fortunate to have the love and support of those closest to me. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. But when it comes to sitting at the keyboard each morning, I have to look inside myself for answers, for reassurance, for reliance.
I know I just have to persevere.
The chapters I’m writing at the moment have me dreaming. I can see myself further down the path, in touching distance of where I want to be.
Hopefully I’m not delusional.
[Sunset over the common behind my house, walking with my dad and, unsurprisingly, Cassie.]