Tag Archives: word count

Endings and Beginnings


Writing only works if you devote yourself to it, day after day, week in and week out, month after agonizing month. You park yourself in front of the screen again and again and again, wondering every day if what you’re doing is going anywhere, or if it’s coming to anything, or if the pieces you’re punching out of the drywall will ever fit together in a shape that fits known geometries or not again. The words pour out and pour out; some days it’s all hey this is pretty fun and cool and exciting whee I’m weaving stories and making magic like a rainbow-skating elf and other days it’s like it’d be easier to self-castrate than type a single word, why do I do this to myself, I have invented a new masochism.

By necessity, I find myself not thinking about the finish too much. In the beginning it’s too far; I might as well be thinking about the end of the Trump presidency for all the good it does me to think about the end of my project today. In the middle it’s a torture — I know it’s getting closer, but like a mirage floating over the horizon, it just never seems to get any closer. And at the end, the nearness of it is distorting, like a haze of summer gnats flittering in your face — close enough to touch, yet dancing just out of reach.

Instead, I watch the ground under my feet. Follow the path where it leads, occasionally stop to check the map, and mostly just focus on not getting stuck in the mud or wandering off into the undergrowth. Think about today’s 500 words today, worry about tomorrow’s 500 words tomorrow, and as for yesterday’s 500 words? Forget them, lest ye be sucked down in the quicksand of self-satisfaction or devoured by the litera-demons that hound your every step. Eyes always ahead — but not too far ahead. Sure, there’s a prize out there in the shape of a finished story (well, “finished” is more like it — you still have to edit the thing, after all). But the real prize is another day walking the path, another day weaving stories out of nothingness, the next 500 words that you haven’t written yet.

In this way, a novel gets written. In this way, a story gets told. In this way, another 8 (or nine? or maybe ten? Who even knows, this journey warps spacetime worse than a singularity) months pass. In this way, another cast of characters struts and frets its hour upon the page.

And then, holy carp, one day you’re working away — faithfully, dutifully, painfully hammering out your daily words, when the fog lifts. The trees thin out. The mirage resolves itself.

The loose ends of the story are tying themselves into neat little knots, your word count is knocking on the door of that 85,000 mark, and you realize: it’s almost over.

On the one hand, it’s gratifying as hell — you’ve worked away these months, not knowing what, if anything, it was all going to come to, and now you can look back at the trail you’ve blazed. It was all leading somewhere, after all: to this moment, right here, this patch of virgin earth under your battered boots. The sun seems to shine a little brighter here; the rain passes a little quicker; the breeze is a little sweeter. It’s nearly over. Mission accomplished. C’est finis. (Are those even words? They feel like they might be words.)

But there’s a dissatisfaction, too; equal and opposite to the fullness of accomplishment. The story’s not done yet, not really. You’ve blazed the trail, but you have to go back and mark it out so that your readers can follow you down it. And that’s a lot of work ahead.

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But more so than re-treading this trail you’ve just carved — which will be its own adventure, no doubt — is this: Here you stand, in the midst of the wilderness. The ending point for one journey. And the starting point for the next one.

Make no mistake, finishing a novel is a sweet, sweet feeling. But it’s not a fullness that lets you sit back and unbuckle your belt like you’ve just polished off five pounds of Thanksgiving turkey before you slip into a tryptophan coma. It’s a fullness that scatters like ice from the spoon (I stole that simile from somewhere, but I’ve no idea where), that leaves you hungry again the moment it clears your palate.

There are more trails to blaze, more strange and wonderful characters to meet, more dangers to face, more MacGuffins to MacGuffin.

And though this particular page may be full, you can already hear the next blank page calling.

What else can you do but answer?


Finish What You Start; Start What You Can Finish


This is about the time of year when I post a big rant about New Year’s Resolutions. But not this year. This year? I’ve got enough of my own sharknado going on to worry about starting in on anybody else, let alone myself. You want to make a resolution? Go ahead. You want to be one of the throng that’s overwhelming every gym in the country during the month of January? Do you.

The only thing I’m going to say about resolutions this year is: finish what you start.

It’s simple advice, but I forget it myself from time to time, and there’s sure as hell a lot of unfinished business in the world to testify for it.

Finish what you start.

This is the year you decide to start doing the thing? Great. Be real specific about what that thing is. Make sure it’s a thing you actually can finish, and then start doing it with the goal in mind.

You’re going to take up running? Nah, that’s not specific enough. Decide instead that you’re going to run a 5k. Then, instead of going out on Jan. 1 (or, okay, Jan. 2 if you’re hung over), padding around in the cold a bit and deciding this whole “running” thing isn’t for you, you start down a path. You go out, run a bit, and it sucks, but you’ve still got that 5k distance looming, and you’re not there yet. Probably won’t be for some time. So the next day, you’re compelled to lace up again and try a little harder, until you can finish what you start.

Taking up writing? Super. Put a goal on it. If it’s a blog, make it a post a week, or a post every three days, or a post every time Saturn is in the house of whatever bullshirt astrology thing tickles your toes. If it’s a novel, well, then, it’s a novel; that means 50,000 words on a conservative estimate. If it’s just “writing”, nebulous and dreamlike, well, technically, you write an e-mail every couple of days, right? Or a shopping list? Or a note to yourself in the fog of the shower mirror? And that’s real easy to do, except that’s not what you meant by “writing”, and you know it. Writing 500 words a day, every day, until you have 50,000 words? That’s 100 days. That’s an accomplishment. That’s a thing that, when it’s finished, will feel solid in the hands, like a participation trophy or the trunk of the neighbor’s tree that hangs over your yard when you finally cut it down.

Me? I’ve got a handful of things that I’ve started, but I haven’t yet finished. Chief among them are several writing projects, but I’m not worried about that, because even though I’m in a lull right now (man, it’s hard maintaining a daily word count when you’re a teacher on holiday break) (make that nigh impossible) (okay fine I took a week off from my project, are you happy now??), I know I have the momentum to finish anyway.

Not because writing novels, or short stories, or even blog posts is easy. It isn’t. But I can write 500 words a day. (Okay, FINE, I can write 500 words a day when I’m not on vacation.) And when I’m in those 500 words, I finish what I start.

Then, the next day, I start again.

Then again.

By the end of a month, I’ve started and finished over twenty 500-word sessions, and that goes a long way toward finishing the 80,000-word first draft I started some five or six months ago. Two more months should just about do it. Two more months to finish what I started in the middle of last year, even though the end of that particular road wasn’t even visible from the starting line.

Manageable, achievable goals. Baby steps. Small successes lead to big successes.

This is why you won’t find me vowing to write and publish three novels next year, or resolving to cut all the carbs out of my diet, or promising myself that I’m really going to keep in touch with my friends this year. Those aren’t things I can reasonably finish.

But I can finish this draft I’m in.

Starting a project and finishing one actually feel very much alike. Lots of confused looking around, waiting and hoping for directions from on high, for the disembodied voice of god or the angels or your conscience to say, “look, this is what you need to be doing, so just get to it”. The blank page is disorienting in its perfection, its vastness. The completed page is disorienting as well, in that you’re suddenly untethered from this thing you’ve been attached to. There’s a lostness.

But if you never get lost, you never feel the high of finding yourself again.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


2016 in Review


*peeks out of his apocalypse-proof bunker*

*looks both ways for passing trains, heart attacks, or plagues*

So, uh, 2016, huh? Been a bit of a treacherous road, hannit? I mean, we say that at the end of every year, and certainly every year has its share of ups and downs, celebrity deaths, breakthroughs and disappointments. But it’s hard to deny that 2016 feels different, especially owing to the recent spate of deaths.

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Not least among them of course is Carrie Fisher, whose passing hit me harder than any this year. Probably because I’ve been a Star Wars kid for the entirety of my functional memory (all I can really remember before I was 14 or so is locking myself in a locker at the high school while my dad — a teacher at the time — was playing basketball, shooting the light bulb in my bedroom with a squirt gun until the bulb exploded [it didn’t take long at all], and watching Star Wars and Back to the Future about a hundred times).

Then there’s Trump getting elected, which fills me with more despair than I care to even think about, so I’m just going to bury my head in the sand and forget I even mentioned it today, lest I fall down another diatribe rabbit hole around here, and NONE OF US WANTS THAT.

Point is, the last few months especially have been rough, so it only makes sense for the rest of us to keep our heads down until 2016 has run its course.

Of course, the end of the year isn’t just for turtling up inside our shells, it’s a time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, and I’m happy to say that 2016 was a decent year for me personally. I overcame my nerves and self-doubt and finally got my first novel submitted and out in the world. (No leads yet, but that’s okay.) I lost my mind and ran my first obstacle course race, which was awesome and I’m already registered to repeat in April (thanks to my wife, who is ever-indulgent of such dalliances). I started my new job, which, while a little more taxing than my old job — and more demanding of my time outside standard working hours — is also a lot more creatively fulfilling.

Running-wise, I haven’t looked at my metrics in a while, but the nice part about running with gadgetry is that I don’t have to think all that much about how much I’m running — the technology tracks it all for me. Apparently, I’ve run 596 miles this year, up from 460 last year. I’m pleased with that — the number could be higher, but I was lucky enough to spend most of this year not dealing with injuries. Most of those miles have been comfortable and pain-free, so to get almost 600 there is encouraging.

Writing-wise, I finished up the first draft of novel #2, completed a third edit on novel #1 (and finally started submitting it) and have completed about 60,000 words of novel #3. That’s somewhere in the range of 8,000-10,000 words a month, minus a month’s worth for those edits; call it 90,000 words. For a guy like me with a full-time job and two full-time kids … well, I was going to say that’s respectable, but seeing as that’s a sliding scale, I’ll content myself with saying it makes me happy, at least.

Then there’s the blarg, here. I’ve not been quite as prolific as in years past, but I still get about three posts a week, for anywhere from 500-1100 words on average, with the odd outlier (*COUGH* Force Awakens Review) pushing 2000. Wordpress tells me I have 172 posts this year, and if the average is, let’s be conservative and say, 600? That gives … damn. 103,200 words. On the one hand I feel bad about that; it seems to recommend that I’m more productive here than in my capital “W” Writing, and I can’t say I’m pleased about that. Then again, a thing I read over and over is that all writing is good writing — it all sharpens the iron, as it were — so in that case, any productivity is good productivity.

All that is to say that I’ve produced something like 200,000 written words this year, run about six hundred miles, and taken some real, concrete steps to actually getting my writing out there in the world. None of which is a small thing; altogether, it’s pretty damn encouraging. Furthermore, if a guy like me can do it, then literally anybody can do it, and given that resolution season is upon us, what more motivation do you need?

Next up: a review of some of the year’s top posts.


Wrestling with Character


My current work-in-progress is a superhero story about a guy who hates superheroes and therefore becomes a villain. And I just today wrote the start of a scene that kind of shocked me.

Without spoilerating my own story, this guy has a hostage problem to solve with no easy way out. (Which is exactly the sort of problem a good novel needs, right?) And in flinging myself against this problem, a solution occurred to my protagonist and myself simultaneously. Usually solutions for writers are good things, but this one is a little bit mixed.

It fits the character perfectly. It fits the narrative perfectly. But it makes me uncomfortable, because it’s a little rape-y. Not in the sexual assault way (it’s not that kind of book), but in the willful taking-by-force of a thing from a more or less helpless victim. A victim who was once something like a friend. And this taking … well, it’s pretty much going to color the relationship between these two forever, assuming I leave it in (and I don’t see how I can leave it out, at this point). It’s forceful. It’s traumatic. It has left me feeling a little bit icky after the words came out.

So, it makes me seriously uneasy, but it also really gets me fired up about the story, because it fits so well. And it hit me — this is the sort of thing that’s been missing from this story all along. My protagonist, much as I have been thinking of him as a villain, hasn’t done much that’s outright villainous; so for him to finally break bad like this feels a little shocking. Then again, at the same time, it feels long overdue, coming in the final third of the book.

But now I’m all conflicted. This isn’t the sort of thing I envisioned my protagonist doing, but now that the moment has presented itself, it’s hard for me to imagine him acting any differently. It’s not the act itself that has me vexed, though. The real quandary that’s sticking in my craw is that I don’t know if this guy (or this girl, for that matter) can come back from this. I don’t know if a choice like this can be redeemed, and that could be a problem in future installments of this story.

So many questions. Is this scene right? Is it happening at the right moment in the story, or should it happen sooner (establishing him as a real rotten dude right from the go would clear up some of the waffling he’s done thus far … then again, if this moment comes late, it feels more like a final step on a terrible path)? Can a character come back from something like this? And, for that matter, should he?

On the plus side, the last couple days’ writing has poured out of me like from a ruptured water main, so that, at least, makes me feel like I’m on the right track.


Writing Journal: in which I ponder on stuff happening


I’m having serious insecurities about my writing lately.

I mean, I guess that sentence could be true for any writer at any time, ever, but it feels more so now, and I can’t really say why. I feel like the narrative I’m crafting is boggy and mired, like it’s trying to slog through a swamp replete with swarming, biting mosquitoes, noxious muck that sucks at your shoes, and probably a bunch of gators lurking just below the surface, waiting for you to come close enough to take a chomp at.

It’s slow going, is what I’m trying to say. Not the writing — that’s moving along just fine — but the story itself. I constantly fear that it’s lurking dangerously on the precipice of going down forever in the mire. And I’m not 100% sure what to attribute this feeling to, this spider-sense that something’s wrong. The writing doesn’t feel so terribly dissimilar from the writing in my first novel, where I felt like things clipped along fairly well.

I think — and who the hell knows, certainly not me — that I’m doing too much explaining. What I mean is, I feel like the current story is more centered on a single character than my previous stories, and it’s particularly centered on the way this character sees the world. That viewpoint is pretty cynical (go figure) and a bit self-doubty (you don’t say) and ultimately a bit nihilistic (shocker). All of which is fine, maybe, but I feel like I’m spending entirely too much time in between things happening dealing with my character’s reactions to the events, with his thoughts and fears and plans for what’s coming next, rather than, you know, just getting to the next thing.

Then I go and watch, oh, I don’t know, any TV show ever and it’s nothing but things happening at breakneck pace. Tonight it’s Penny Dreadful, for example, and in one episode, a character tracks down his childhood home and throttles the current landlord; another pair of characters turns another character evil and then all three bathe in the blood of a previous antagonist; another character enters a hypnotic state wherein she learns of a previous involvement with another character that we never knew about, and yet another character goes on a murdering rampage with yet another character he just met while still another character chases him across the desert of the Wild West. I mean, holy sharknado. That’s all in just one hour.

Now, yeah, I know, that’s TV, which is not a novel. TV is a flash-flame, table-side grill, while a novel is a slow-cooker. But still. There’s hardly time to breathe in between all that stuff happening, let alone time to reflect, react, or plan for the future.

So, then, I take a page from that particular book and pursue tonight’s writing with a mind toward action, action, action, and bang out 850 words without breaking a sweat. And it’s great! But it leaves me wondering: am I writing this particular novel all wrong? Am I living too much in the character’s (and, by extension, my own) head, at the expense of actually letting the story happen? Maybe the story needs more passages like the one tonight, more swathes of stuff happening with less thinking about the stuff on the part of one character or another.

But then, (dammit,) I circle back around, because aren’t the protagonist’s internal struggles just as important as the external ones that manifest as he’s robbing banks to equip his newfound secret lair with the help of his newly reprogrammed robot companion? (Oh, yeah, spoiler alert, I guess, kinda.) I mean, the current novel is sort of an anti-superhero story, so it needs a fair bit of rock ’em sock ’em action, but without that introspection weaved throughout, won’t it ring hollow?

Just another missive from I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing-island.

*ponders*

*steams*

*hops back on the hamster wheel*

 


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