Tag Archives: learning on the job

The Little Story that Could

So, turns out I’m writing the Never-Ending Story.

No – not this one (unfortunately):

Image: ncwardwebb.blogspot.com

Image: ncwardwebb.blogspot.com

What I mean is, I’m finding myself wondering who’s in control of my brain lately – me, or a certain Miss Emmeline Widget, aged nine-and-three-quarters. At the moment, it’s Emmeline 1, me 0.

For some reason, I have been writing lots of words over the past week or so. Every day I sit down to work a little more on ‘Emmeline’, telling myself ‘Yup. This is definitely going to be the day. This day will be the day you’ll finish this darn book.’ But it just doesn’t happen. Words keep coming, squeezing out of my mind like toothpaste out of a near-empty tube.

Just when I think I have a handle on what’s going on, I find the plot deciding to take another jaunt down Unexpected Avenue, ending up at a place I didn’t know I was going until I got there. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; it’s actually a whole lot of fun. However, it does make it hard to know how I’m going to trim enough out of the book – once that mystical place known as ‘Done’ has been reached – to make it sit neatly inside an acceptable word count. At the rate I’m going, I’ll need to shed something like 10,000 words, and that will hurt. A lot.

I’ve been trying to just forget about all of this and go with the flow, putting the words down as they come to me and not caring about anything else. This, however, is not something that comes easily to me. I have always wanted to be a tie-dye, flower-haired, ‘all-is-one-here-have-a-crystal’ type, but really I have the soul of a person who wears all their pens in their top pocket and who likes to know What Is Going On at every given moment. So, the fact that I am dealing with a recalcitrant book which is, apparently, telling me who’s boss, is a bit uncomfortable.

Image: jamesclear.com

Yes, yes. But which one is the writer, and which one the book? *That* is the question. Image: jamesclear.com

It’s all part and parcel of being a pantser, I suppose. I certainly feels a lot freer than trying to write within a rigid plot, but with great freedom comes great terror, sometimes.

But perhaps it’s not all my fault. I reckon a portion of the blame has to lie with my fictional folk, too. Call me crazy, but I’ve often felt that characters in books have more of a life than anyone suspects. It really does feel, to me, that Emmeline and her friends just aren’t finished playing yet, and they won’t allow their story to come to an end – not until they’re good and ready, at least. If that’s the case, then what’s a writer to do but hang on and hope for the best? I hope that this is a good thing – as in, when I read my work over in the weeks to come, that it won’t seem drawn out, or extraneous, or ‘puffed up’ for effect; I hope that the story I’m telling will be fast-moving, exciting, interesting, fun (except for the scary bits), and as good to read as it was to write. If the writing process feels a bit out of control, the worry is – of course – that the reading experience will feel much the same.

But I won’t know that for a few weeks yet, of course. Perhaps, if things carry on the way they’ve been for the past while, I may never know.*

I’m sure there are people who think that sitting down to write every day must be the most boring thing imaginable. ‘What – you spend hours staring at a computer screen, by yourself, listening to the voices in your head, and staring at the wall when you need a rest from the sheer overwhelming excitement? Wow.’ To those people, I say: ‘Actually, it’s rather like being at the helm of a ship in a storm-tossed sea, with no land in sight. You’re the captain, and you think you know what you’re doing, but the waves have other ideas – and, no two are the same.’

Land’s not in sight yet, not for me at least. But – so far – the voyage has been worth it.

Image: devwebpro.com

Image: devwebpro.com

I’m off to do battle with my book once more; wish me luck, do. Perhaps today will be the day I bring her into harbour.

(All right – enough with the nautical metaphors. Tally-ho!)


*Of course, I don’t mean this. The first rule of writing, as everyone knows, is ‘Finish Your Work.’ This is truth. I will finish ‘Emmeline’, and the work will be done, and it shall not defeat me. But sometimes it’s hard to remember that when the book has you in a choke-hold. Anyway.

Weariness… and the Weekend

So, Friday has rolled around again.  Even though my life has changed completely over recent weeks, and I no longer have the same ‘working week’ that I used to have, my body is having a hard time keeping up with my brain; I am exhausted today.  As well as that, though, I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve been a bit too enthusiastic, a little too early in play, about my new project – i.e. The Novel.  I’ve managed to deplete my energy levels to the point where thinking is painful.

I have written nearly 40,000 words.  My desk is covered in scribbled post-it notes.  I have one full notebook and one partially full one glaring at me, accusing me of being a bad plotter. I have a print-out of my work to date covered in various colours of felt-tip pen (Revision 1 – purple; Revision 2-red; Revision 3-green).  How do other people do this?  I’m hoping that it’s a case of ‘learning on the job’, and that as time goes by it will get easier.  I don’t find motivation a problem, but I do find getting past the fear a bit difficult – and, by ‘the fear’ I don’t even mean ‘will I succeed?  Will anyone besides me ever read this?  Can I do this?’, but I mean ‘am I doing this the right way?  Does everyone feel like this at the beginning?  Am I making stupid mistakes, that if I had a bit more common sense, I could avoid?’  However, I’ve lived enough at this point, and I’ve done enough long writing projects, to realise that peaks and troughs are inevitable, and I hope that experience will see me through.

It’s exciting at the beginning of a project like this, when your faith in your Big Idea is burnished and bright, and you start writing with all the enthusiasm of a small child faced with a colouring book.  Then, the longer you scratch away at the idea, almost without you noticing, its sheen starts to dull.  What seemed clever during the planning phase now seems silly, and you realise that no matter how detailed your plotting, you start running into difficulties when you factor in your characters, who bring to bear on your story their thought processes, personalities, aspirations, and all the rest of it.  Characters – goshdarnit – they complicate things, with their quirks and their individuality, and your sudden realisations that ‘hang on, there’s no way that character would say/do something like that.’  I’ve done everything I was supposed to do and I’m still finding the process, right now, akin to being locked in a box.  The biggest challenge, at the moment, is not in putting one word behind another, but in trying to keep the panic at bay.

But, as I said – it’s Friday.  This weekend, I hope I’ll have a chance to replenish my energy levels, and come back to my work with renewed optimism.  I hope that by keeping my faith in my idea alive (and remembering to take a rest, now and then) that I’ll manage to work myself through these thorny patches and come out the other side, bloodied and torn, but – hopefully – clutching the finished product.

And, of course, I hope your weekend is a time of relaxation for you, too.  I know I can get very careless about allowing myself time to recuperate and recover, so I hope you’re cleverer than me, and that you’re going to make the most of your down-time.  Have a good one, y’all.