Hello. I’m Gerald, and I write. I write lots. In my Works In Progress spreadsheet, I have 36 titles. Yes, 36. Over 1.1 million words. But out of all those words and titles, I have only 4 finished first drafts containing just over 200,000 words.
Really? Are you kidding me? What’s going on?
You may well ask. A lot of those unfinished titles were written as part of NaNoWriMo.
So, the big question is: why do I have so much trouble actually finishing off my novels? And the truth is: I don’t know.
I’m not alone.
I watched an hour-long programme on TV about Ian Rankin (he writes crime novels, and one of his main characters is John Rebus, just for information). He’s very famous. Very prolific. And Scottish. But that’s nothin’ to do with nothin’.
There was this one little bit, where he shouted down from upstairs when he was writing. He was fed up, depressed. His wife said: “It’s page 163.” It might have not been 163. It might have been 263. I don’t know. But it was about 3/4 of the way through the novel. “This happens every time,” she said.
Cut to closeup of Ian Rankin. Looking very depressed. “I hate this book,” he said. Again, I might have paraphrased.
But the key thing here is: even a prolific author like Ian Rankin suffers from Three-Quarter Syndrome. Or TQS. There. I named it.
And during this NaNoWriMo, there was a guest post from Neil Gaiman. He’s a writer, too. Here it is:
The key extract here:
The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”
I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”
“You don’t remember?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”
So there you have it. That feeling you’re having just now? Ian Rankin and Neil Gaiman have it, as do scores of other writers. The feeling is that your novel is poor, pointless, not worth completing.
And I’ve been there, too. Lots of times. But the difference this year? I knew about it beforehand. I was expecting it. Goddamn it, I even gave it a TLA (Three Letter Acronym).
So, we’re all sitting in this cess pool of writing. We’re about 3/4 of the way through. HOW THE HELL DO I FINISH THIS THING?
First thing – there is no magic bullet, alas. I’m sorry. No one is going to come and sprinkle fairy dust on your laptop keyboard, making the words appear magically on your screen.
So, you have to write. You have to grit your teeth. You have to have an idea of where your story is going. But you really have to sit down, and type words. Not just random, fairy dust words, but words that move your story on, scene by scene, line by line. Find out what you like writing. Is it long and rambling descriptions of landscapes? Do it. Is it fractious and tetchy conversations between two characters? Do it. Is it an account of a journey in a 2,000 horse-power Einstein machine? Do it. As long as it moves the story towards that ending. You can even write the ending now. No, seriously, you can. Write that final scene, the one everything’s been leading up to. I’ve done this, and then worked backwards. That worked for me. But you have to write. No one’s going to write it for you.
Because it gets easier. Honestly. I have found this many, many times. Break through this stupid wall, this word-desert, because this is where typists give up, and writers carry on. You want to tell this story. You NEED to tell this story. It’s in your head, and if you don’t get it out, it’s going to make your brain explode. No, really. See if it doesn’t.
SO WRITE THE DAMNED STORY.
It’s now the 10th of December, and I’m still writing.
You might have noticed a stream of little bits of writing in a “Small Stones Dec 2014” category. It’s from the River of Small Stones idea which started a few years ago. I wrote about it then. It’s a great idea to get / keep your creative juices flowing in the post-NaNo slump. I know they’re not very good. I’m no poet, and I don’t have the breadth of symbolism required to make them really good, but I like them. I have forgotten to upload them each day, which is why there’s a slew of them uploaded just now. But I do write them every day, otherwise I’d forget what I had been doing.
On NaNoWriMo, I wrote an end of month update here: http://gerald-hornsby.com/blog/2014/11/30/nanowrimo-2014-its-all-over-almost/ And since then? I’ve continued to write the City in Flames story and, as of this moment, I’m at 62,714 words, and nearing the end. I’m pleased with how it’s been going, averaging nearly 1,400 words per day during December.
I’ve also been on Twitter a bit more, under the handle @ if you want to follow me.
And that’s about it for the moment. Time to write!
So, NaNoWriMo is all but over for another year. I validated my word count (and downloaded my certificate and winners’ badges) at around 3.30pm today (30th November). But it wasn’t really that close. I had started a #50k5days project (yes, writing 50,000 words in 5 days) which I wasn’t able to successfully complete, and I had over 27k words on that for the month, too. But I wanted to finish the NaNo with a ‘proper’ 50k words.
Regarding NaNoWriMo itself, I wrote a first half or so of a novel City in Flames, another apocalyptic ‘The world in going to end’ novel which will fit quite nicely into the, as yet, unpublished End Of Civilisation series. My writing pace was a bit all over the place (see graph to the side): the blue line is my daily word count, the red line the average over the month, and the greeny line is words ahead of / behind target. But it’s done, and this is my 10th ‘win’ in 11 attempts. And, for the first time, I don’t hate my story. Previous NaNo ‘things’ have been despised by me, and grinding out the words has been a trial. But not this time. I had a good story, I had reasonable characters, and an active timeline which makes the story work well as a thriller. At least, I think so. I’ll be continuing to write this.
Oh, and thanks to a very kind offer, I have a cover done for me by Rivka Kawano over at http://www.authorsensei.com/cover-design–illustration.html
Social activities? I went to the Essex NaNo group Kickoff party, and it was great to see some existing friends and meet new ones. Well done @em_biddulph for taking on the role of Essex ML once again, and for organising so many events. The NaNoEssex Facebook page was lively and interesting, too.
This year saw the official introduction of a Suffolk region, and as I’m almost literally a stone’s throw from Suffolk (well, a very hard throw of a very small stone), I joined that group, too, under the watchful eye of their ML, Sarah. I went to a few of their write-ins, and they had a very active Facebook page, too. I was happy to join a group of word sprinters on there to push my word count along. So the social aspects of NaNoWriMo were very enjoyable again.
Regarding #50k5days, I began the month trying to find 5 consecutive days where I could dedicate my time to writing ten thousand words each day, but that was difficult. So I announced I would be doing it piecemeal during the month. And then, I left it to the last minute, so I was using the last 5 (consecutive) days for writing this. I started day 1 with over 8k, then 10k on day 2, then a disappointing 7.4k for day 3, when real life got in the way. Day 4 was an almost complete bust at 2k, and at that point, I abandoned. But here again, I have what I think will make a good story, and the writing I’ve done is as near as a good edit / rewrite from a finished draft as I’ve ever done. So double positive.
And what now?
I’ve started a “Write.A.Page.A.Day” group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/write.a.page.a.day/ if you’re interested), with the intention of encouraging authors (me, mainly) to keep writing during the days and weeks after the end of NaNo.
I have my Writer-Chat shows http://writer-chat.com/ where I will spread my chatty net wider, beyond my NaNo buddies, haranguing published authors onto the ‘air’ with me. I’ve invested some money in audio equipment, so I’m intending to increase the professionalism of the show as we continue. I want to provide podcasts of them in the future, too.
“What about publishing”, I hear you cry? (I hear stuff all the time, it’s okay). I was hoping to publish three things this year. So far, I’ve published … nothing. Another target missed. My collaborative slasher horror is in second edit. I have three completed first drafts, waiting for me to return to them – one is crime, which might get my attention first, and t’others are apocalyptic thrillers, which need a bit more work. So it’s all there, or thereabouts.
And sleep. I need better sleep. I had too many late nights attempting to meet wordcount targets. I watched with interest as the quality of my writing curved downwards as the month progressed. My vocabulary disintegrated until words of even a single syllable were tricky.
Thanks to all my real-life and online friends for the support, the banter and the discussions. It was a brilliant month.
I shall be aiming to participate in the usual #100kwords100days challenges (January and July, all things being equal) and also in NaNoWriMo 2014.
There is also a rather larger, tougher writing challenge – #milwordy. Those who are good at deciphering acronyms might realise that the challenge is to write 1,000,000 words during 2014. One. Million. Words. Two thousand, seven hundred and forty words a day. Every day.
I’m pretty sure I can do this. Typing isn’t a problem for me, and I have a stack of new project ideas ready to be lifted from obscurity. But my problem is one of producing stories which are good enough to go on to publish.
And that’s one of the downsides to rapid writing – the quality can, and sometimes does, suffer. Do I really need another million words of something-less-than-first-drafts, when I already have nearly 720,000 already sitting in Works In Progress? When doing my fast writing, I tell myself that I can add more character depth later, add a plot twist or a subplot later. And, I think, that leads me to be dissatisfied with my writing. It’s a conundrum.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking, and I know what my major project will be this year, and that is to write a series of apocalyptic fiction novels, with a common main character taking the reader from small, local, everyman issues, up to global and international issues, and perhaps beyond.
I’m not going to do this alone. Oh no. I have a small army of previously-written concepts, which I’m going to use as fleshed-out plans for my 2014 writing. I have a character who struggles with politics and business (key themes for my End Of Civilization series), but on a very basic, local level.
He then moves onto to the national stage, moving in circles with people he used to watch on TV, tackling big international issues.
Then, he moves onto a global stage, where the challenges are bigger and the stakes are higher.
The final piece of the series bring him full circle, back to a very local level, dealing with personal issues, because he’s failed to resolve the mighty issues that challenged him in Book 3.
Added to that (which is a big enough project on its own, I know) I will be trying to complete my collection of crime series. For marketing reasons, that might be written under a pseudonym, but we’ll see. All in all, it’s going to be a busy year.
Happy New Year!
It’s been a bit of a mixed year for me.
On the positive side, I had two successful #100kwords100days challenges (January and July), and a successful NaNoWriMo. At the time of writing (December 30th), I’ve written 409,575 new words this year. Not all were fiction – the ‘rules’ of #100kwords100days allow for blog posts and planning to be included in word counts. But that’s still a good total for one year.
On the negative side, I didn’t publish anything this year.
One of my aims this year was to complete a selection of dark Christmas-related tales, and to publish them in time for the Christmas
But … I wasn’t pleased with them. Soseason. I did this – I created ten new short stories, at around 21,000 words in total, which I was going to bundle with three previously-released short pieces which had a Christmas theme. Some of them worked, but one or two didn’t – they weren’t strong enough stories, and my writing wasn’t the best. So I shelved the project. I didn’t delete it, and They Will Return, with tough rewrites to sharpen up the writing. Depending on the situation when next Christmas trundles alone, I will either publish them as a collection or release them for free as singles. Watch this space.
The bottom line is – I’m not going to release my writing unless I think it’s the best it can be. The quality of the writing is more important than any seasonal-related marketing strategy. I only wish that were the case with some other self-published writers.
I’ve completed 3 long works to “draft zero” status – a 65,000 word crime story, and two thrillers at 45k and 47k each.
But therein lies the problem. I love writing, I love the buzz I get from creating new characters and situations. But, before 2013, I was a terrible finisher. I never really completed anything but short fiction. So one of my goals for this year was to finish some long fiction, and I’m pleased I’ve been able to do that.
However, I’m still not completely happy with my stories. At the time of writing, I’m not sure whether they’re going to be edited, or put to one side. All is not lost, and I have good news in my “2014 – look ahead” post, coming soon, including a new life for a piece of writing that’s over ten years old. NaNoWriMo 2003, your time is up!