Do you remember a time when there wasn’t a crisis every single minute of every single day? Me neither. It seems like the universe is stacked against writers who have a full time job and a precocious, iPad obsessed toddler. And yet, we find a way to persevere, because writing is life, and to not write is to let the next great American novel wither on the vine. It may take a little longer, we may lose power and water during a winter death storm, but we’ll find a way to keep working. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing with Book Seven.
By The Numbers
I love watching the word count numbers increment; it means I’m making progress. But after a certain point, maybe around the 100k mark, the numbers stop mattering as much. Book Seven is above 110k, with 48 of the planned 60 chapters written. And sorry to disappoint, but we’re also well past the Jade Horizon (named after the point in a 90s movies after which characters are unlikely to get naked again, as made famous in Jade), so there haven’t been any additional showers.
With only 12 more chapters to go, I’m hoping to be done with the first draft by the end of March.
Absorb what is useful; discard what is not
One reason why I haven’t done a SotWIP in a couple of months is because at this point in the story, there’s not much I can tell you without spoiling something. The characters and plot are racing to a climax, the walls are coming down around them, and the final decisions about who lives and dies still remain to be made.
Instead, I want to talk about writing (surprise!). Writers are always trying to tell you what they do to get a story done, but today I’d like to tell you about the things I no longer do. You see, when you’re writing in snatches at random times throughout the day, you don’t really have time to have a system. You just do what you can with the time you have. To streamline my process, here are some things I stopped doing.
I stopped worrying about the stuff I was forgetting. Nobody likes continuity errors, but as the months drag on, I find myself forgetting what happened in previous chapters. Normally, this would cause me anxiety, and the only cure would be to go back and re-read. With Book Seven, I just keep plugging along. It doesn’t matter what color I said that character’s hair was, or what name I gave them, or what occupation I made up–what matters is right now in this chapter.
I stopped obsessing over names. Instead of spending thirty minutes hitting refresh on fakenamegenerator.com, I simply throw out the first name that occurs to me, the less exciting the better. Bob and John and Mike show up a lot. If it’s a complete throwaway mention, I’ll just put an underscore. That reminds me of my cousin ____; he had three nipples too. That kind of thing.
I stopped researching. I remember writing the first draft of Hybrid Mechanics and spending way too much time in Chapter 1 researching types of ammunition. Now I just pretend I know what I’m talking about. Later, I’ll go back and research and make adjustments. Having the exact right type of ammunition isn’t as important as getting the first draft done.
I stopped looking for synonyms. It’s hard to find the right word sometimes, and it’s even more annoying when you think you know it and end up searching thesaurus.com for far too long in search of it. Just use a simple word and move on. You can always come back later and punch up the prose, especially if you’re still trying to figure out the tone and style of a character’s narration. He opened the door. He went into the hall. He looked at the window. It’s not pretty, but it gets you to the next chapter.
I stopped stressing about not writing. The world is in a bad state, and the last thing you should do is give yourself grief for being too tired, stressed, apathetic, or blah to write. That’s even assuming you even have the time to sit at the keyboard. It used to stress me out a lot, so now I just don’t worry. I’ll get back to the book soon enough. It’s not like someone is going to come in and finish it themselves if I leave it unattended for too long.
I stopped being in a hurry. The closer I get to the end of the first draft, the more I think about a title, cover design, marketing, websites, swag, editing, proofing, advertising, and everything else that needs to be done after. Knowing all those things are waiting for me makes me want to hurry and finish so I can start on them, as if there is some kind of deadline. There isn’t. So I stopped hurrying and started taking my time. I like it better this way, as there’s no longer any guilt for only banging out a few hundreds words in a sitting instead of a whole chapter.
I stopped finishing chapters. You’ll see this piece of writing advice out there in the world sometimes, and it boils down to leaving a chapter unfinished so you’ll have an easy win the next time you sit down to write. I was always of the mind that you write 2,000 words and finish the chapter or the session wasn’t a success. Now I’ll write 500 words and leave it for a day, then write another 1000 and abandon it yet again. And if I accidently end a chapter, I’ll add a few paragraphs to the next one before calling it quits. Long story short: you don’t have to stop when a chapter ends, and you don’t have to stick around if it hasn’t yet. Put it away without any guilt because you know you’ll be back eventually.
The more you write, the more you refine your process. You hear that a lot too. I think I’m learning that your “process” is a moving target. It changes with age, with the state of the world, and with the amount of cedar pollen in the air. Something that used to work ten years ago may just annoy you today. For me, it’s anything that stops me from writing, whether that’s research, thinking up a name, rereading earlier chapters, and so forth.
I’m learning to make the most of my limited time, and it has been a rewarding process of stripping away the unessential.
It makes me wonder how much I could accomplish if I were writing full-time.
I guess we’ll find out in 2045.
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