Scary confession time: I’ve never read a Chuck Wendig book. I want to, I do, if for no other reason than his blog on writing is always like a drunk coach cheering on the team before falling face first on the bench – a bit raw and candid, but full of inspirational points that leave you nodding even when you’re told you’re the team’s loveable screw up. If nothing else, I feel like buying a book or two would help show my support of his work. But then I worry that by buying into his work, I help fuel a real world In the Mouth of Madness, with Wendig as our very own Sutter Cane, and then I start writing crazy candid blog posts with that weird guy on the bike with the card in the spokes riding past me over and over and over…
Today, Wendig’s blog post is no different – a trip through the real stages of writing a novel. Personally, I’m somewhere between the 33% and 50% marker right now on my current WIP (really depends on where the word count ends up being – I’m aiming for about 75k, but maybe it’ll be shorter, maybe it’ll be longer). If you’re interested, hop over to read the Emotional Milestones of Writing a Novel. Or, TL;DR, the infographic is below.
I’d like to comment briefly on writing chains, in part because I find them helpful and utterly destroying.
Writing chains are generally a reference to the number of consecutive, successful days of writing you have. The intent is not to break the chain – to write every day. It is an admirable and motivating force.
Writing chains are good. They help provide focus, a reminder that you must work every day if you want to improve your craft. There is a satisfaction to writing chains that only grows over time, because they are a marker of dedication and success. I may not be much, my stories may not be well known, but I’ve written 11 days in a row (155 of the last 184), and practice makes perfect. My skill is getting better, my story telling improving. There is also evidence that in my stats that the more you write, the more you write. When I started out tracking in July, I was average 4-500 words a day. By December, I was up to 650 words a day. So far this year, and I admit this is a wild streak even by my own standards, but I have been writing an average of 1208 words a day. Sure, that’s not going to net me a book that’s saleable any faster, but that’s despite returning to work and life in the fast lane.
Writing chains can be bad. If writing is a secondary career, though, then you can’t write every day without losing the meaning of the chain. In your day job, no matter how much you love the work you do, you need breaks. Weekends. Vacations, even. Times when you are not working, but doing something else, something unrelated. These breaks away help provide you with clarity, recharging your batteries so you can return with renewed vigor.
So too it should be with writing, whether you are the rarely fortunate who calls writing their career, or like me, aspiring only to weave a coherent story or two that others might enjoy. I still have a ways to go with the current novel project, so I don’t expect to be breaking that chain any time soon (current estimates have me wrapping up in about a month with the first draft), but after that I completely intend to take a slight break. If nothing else, my brain will need me to take that break, so I can shift gears. I have an inkling of what I’d like to work on next, and it’s a departure from epic fantasy and into space opera.
I’d like to suggest to other folks who are trying to write, that writing chains are a good thing – but they should be relevant to a project, not a calendar. Keeping the chain going while working on a single piece is crucial, in my mind, because otherwise you begin to slip out of character and lose track of where you’re headed. Your brain, which is working on the next bit of creative wizardry even when you’re not aware of it, is going to let go of those unrealized ideas if you sideline your current project(s). However, forcing your to keep the chain alive when you are between projects, just for the sake of being able to say you wrote every day, is beyond my kenning.
But then, maybe my problem is I don’t have enough projects lined up?
I’ll talk about it, I’ll tweet about it, but it looks like I don’t blog about it much.
“What, exactly, is going on in the word mashing arena?” you might be asking. Fair enough.
I’ve really embraced the entire “the first draft is just for me” mentality. So much so, I’m willing to evangelize it a little here. I don’t outline, I just can’t, but I can write fast (usually). That first draft, something I never appreciated before, is me working out my thoughts. There are inconsistencies, loops, and bum legs that move from one side to the other like a slightly famous Igor. Like Jamie Rubin said when he made this infographic here:
The second draft is where the gold is. Its the pass where I can correct logic flaws, fix consistency errors. If the last few weeks is any indication, the second draft is also a lot faster to write. Since I finished the first draft of the last novel, I’ve written 12000 words in 14 days. A lot of that I contribute to treating the first draft like a really fleshy outline. Sure, it takes me longer to outline than a traditionalist, but when I go back for my second draft, the fingers are on fire. I’ve revised a story I loved writing the first time, and the second time I think I made a lot more consistent (“Beneath the Veil of Clouds”), and I’m 2/3 of the way through revisions on another short story (“Chris Cross, Applesauce”).
So what next? Next I’m giving serious consideration to taking a look at a previously failed novel. I really loved working on “A Mountain Fell From Heaven,” and then I let it die off because I didn’t know how to write. Now I know – keep writing past that, let the story shape itself. Worry about all of the other crap, like whether Amos was holding a sword in his left hand or right hand when the karvashi flowed into the room like a throng of killer monkeys, in the second draft, the draft I write for the reader.
And that’s where I’m at, mashing words and finding my way along the path.