I’ve reached that point in writing a novel that, at least for me, is where the demons of self-doubt and second guessing hibernate. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this stage of my writing. In the past, I’ve tended to either give in and give up the project. Last time, I plowed through it. I wasn’t happy with what I came out the other side (the last 10-20k of A Mountain Fell From Heaven felt out of sync to me), but at least there was the satisfaction of saying I finished.
I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do this time. Nagging at me, and in a tangentially related thread, is a quote I heard last night on Criminal Minds. (NB: If you like Criminal Minds, Netflix now has the first 9 seasons up streaming. The more you know.)
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes, 1911
The current WIP is an urban fantasy novel, in the vein of almost but not quite horror. Early on in the writing I had made a decision that I was going to let the story be over the top. Monsters around most corners, all the non-normal characters have some kind of knack that sets them apart from us normal folk.
This has turned out to be harder to pull off than I realized. With everything in the story being over the top, I find myself setting the bar higher and higher as the story progresses. The Conrad quote is a bit grounding, because in the context of the story I’m writing, it should be the truth. This fosters all kinds of self doubts and second guesses on what I’ve written. Have I let the supernatural element of the story run too rampant? By losing that grounding in the normal, what am I left with for the reader to identify with? What separates my story from any other of a barrel full of other urban magic kick butt characters fighting back against the evil scourge that wants to feast on the marrow of humanity’s bones? Why do my summaries of my story sound so much better than what I think I’ve actually written?
This time, though, I think I have a strategy. I’m working on the theory that plowing through last time worked only because I kept writing every day. This, in turn, kept the creative writing muscles flexing so that I could write an ending. In the past, when I’ve just given up on writing at this point, I also took a break from writing in general. Word count totals went to abysmal levels (0 words per day), and there they remained for weeks at a time. My strategy this time around is to work on fixing the outline for the novel in the evenings. During my dedicated writing time, I’ll work on something else for now. Before critics wonder if this is even possible, we all know it is. Consider: You can contain many stories in your head at the same time. If you couldn’t, then nobody would watch serial TV shows with weeks between episodes. Nobody would read book series that weren’t already completely published. We do these things because we can compartmentalize in our brain multiple stories. We keep track of details and characters from each, without letting them overlap too much in our conscious brains.
So, my WIP is giving me trouble. Fine. I’m going to update my outline with what I’ve written and see where that leads me. My goal is to finish the novel. While working on that, I will get my 500 words a day (minimum*) in by working on some short stories that have crossed my mind recently. I’m working on the theory that the way to write successful stories isn’t just to write compelling stories, but to write them well. And the best way to be able to write them well is to practice, practice, practice.
* Why 500 words a day? Largely, it’s an arbitrary number. I’ve considered lowering it to accommodate those days where time and events prevent me from writing, but that feels like a cop-out. 500 words is two pages in the average paperback book (where 1 page = @250 words). 500 words isn’t a lot to aim for, although in the last few days, it’s been a real struggle. It’s not where I want my word counts to be – I don’t feel satisfied unless I’ve written at least 1000 words in a day. But its a good number that at least let’s me feel like I’ve made some progress.