60,347

Lots of people think writing is easy, or should be easy.

If you have an imagination, you can tell a story – right?

But that’s like saying if you can imagine a house, you should be able to build one. Surely there’s nothing too involved there? Dig a foundation, lay down some bricks, build four walls, throw a roof on top – what could possibly go wrong?

It annoys me (I’m easily annoyed) that people think that writing is easy, like writers can sit at the computer and hammer out 9,000 words in a single sitting. No problem.

Unfortunately not.

Writing is painstaking. Whatever’s in your imagination has to be articulated onto the page. You need to find the right words to build the right sentences. The right sentences need to construct the right paragraphs. The right paragraphs need to evolve into a narrative that makes a cohesive chapter. Each chapter has to contribute to a compelling story. And within all of these constructs – even the smallest ones, like finding the right word – there’s so much that could pojssibly go wrong, e.g. a lack of clarity, overwriting, repetition, etc.

As a writer, you’re always evolving – at least until your mind packs it in. But as you’re evolving, you’re learning. You discover new ways to do things. You also learn where you’ve been doing things wrongly, e.g. you might have an over-reliance on exposition, or have favourite phrases and words that you use (every writer has them – I used to love ‘ominous’).

As you learn, the filter through which you write changes, so you curtail these habits – not all the time. Early drafts should be a spill. The filter can act as a net to catch some stuff, but you should always just aim to get everything you need onto the page, and that doesn’t mean stopping to check every keystroke.

With TFSoLY, I’ve bullet-pointed a number of things that I’ll have to either go back and revise, or write into the story. They’re not small things, either. If they were, I’d do them right now. These are big, BIG things. But, right now, it’s important I get the rest of the story down, so I’ll know how those earlier parts will need to work when I do go back and attend them.

Something I’ve found extraordinarily helpful is what I call my Shit List. This is a list of words or phrases that I overuse.

Once I’ve finished the early draft, I’ll run a FIND & REPLACE, highlighting every use of these words or phrases.

Some examples from my Shit List:

  • eyes / gaze / glance / stare / look: an easy habit to fall into, connecting the characters to other characters and/or the environment.
  • turn: my characters are always turning – turning to or away from other characters, or to look at things.
  • spun: my characters are always spinning – dramatic flourishes and all. How can you not love a dramatic flourish? It’s a reason we should still wear cloaks in today’s society.
  • seem: I’m often writing that something seems [fill in whatever comes next].
  • just: my Pantera editor, Lucy Bell, picked up I overuse this – I’m unsure why. I think it’s just become ingrained.

There are others, but these are enough as examples.

When I worked as an editor, I found a lot of these common – especially the eye action. Writers love eye action. (And the word ‘suddenly’, which I refuse to use anymore – it’s such a melodramatic way to inject urgency.)

Just Another Week in Suburbia is approximately 80,000 words, and went through about thirty drafts – including some sizeable cutting of things that didn’t work, and writing in new material (including a whole new final act). August Falling is approximately 83,000 words, and went through at least twenty-five drafts – including writing in some new complementary scenes to round-out the story

Now, by drafts, I mean I read them from the first word to the last word (and some scenes and/or chapters repeatedly). That’s a lot of reading and revising. In the case of Just Another Week in Suburbia, that’s reading roughly 2,400,000 words to get those 80,000 words as right as possible (with help from feedbackers, and my wonderful editor Lucy).

People who aren’t writers or editors see only the final product, and don’t realise how much work goes into getting it as good as it can be.

Writing’s not easy.

(This was actually meant to be a post about mental health – well, I guess that can come next week. Sounds ominous, hey?)

 
Last Week’s Lie: I claimed I’d been bignoting myself. I’d never do that.

55,555

To write a novel, you need to write regularly – again, as I wrote last week, everybody has to devise their own methodology. The only qualifier is that it has to be productive.

How do you know if your schedule is productive? Well, I think certain symptoms appear when you don’t write enough:

  • you lose interest in your story
  • you struggle to remember what you were going to do next
  • you have to go back over what you have done to remember what you’ve written
  • it feels like some indecipherable mess
  • it all seems too hard.

Writing a novel is like rehabbing an injury – when you don’t rehab it, it not only doesn’t get better, but can get worse and be harder to rehab when you finally do get around to trying. But when you rehab regularly, there’s some pain, but there’s also progress more often than not.

When you do write regularly, you:

  • look forward to getting back to your story
  • see how the story is going to unfold
  • find your mind is always – regardless of where you are or what you’re doing – considering what comes next
  • feel a sense of accomplishment as the story takes form
  • look forward to getting back into it.

I started TFSoLY on 26th March – just shy of four months ago. I now sit at 55,555 words. During that time, I’ve had sessions where I’ve either done very little, or I’ve gone backwards because I’ve cut scenes. But I’ve sat at the computer, every day – even if it was only for fifteen minutes, just to keep connected to the story.

Approaching 50,000 words was the first time I became truly aware of the word count – given I’ve had some difficulty in developing this story (and I have a list of bullet-points of things I know I’ll need to address in revision), I was delightfully surprised that I had written so much. Early on, I was privately worried that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this story through a novel.

One of the simplest way to keep momentum going (other than to write) is to keep a word count chart.

This is a simple spreadsheet with just four columns:

    1. first column: the date
    2. second column: how many words I’ve written that day
    3. third column: my total word count
    4. fourth column: any notes from that writing session.

This is an easy way of tracking my progress, as well as motivating myself. If I’ve had a session where I haven’t written much – either because I’ve struggled to find where the story goes next, or simply because I’ve procrastinated (damn you, internet!) – I feel motivated to make sure I atone in the next session. Also, as I see that total word count build, there’s a sense of gratification that something is growing from all these words I’m throwing on the page. That motivates me more. It then becomes a cycle.

While the first, second, and third column are all self-explanatory, in the third column I’ll list any genuine reason I might’ve struggled that day, or if a particular session was heavy on cutting (I’ll mark any excisions in its own row, and colour it red) or revision.

But that’s just a device, a physical means to chart my momentum and sustain it.

Otherwise, as I said last week, it still comes down to one thing: write.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I said I hadn’t written that blog to bignote myself. Of course I was bignoting myself.