Seeking Answers on That First Novel As a Means of Procrastinating About Writing That First Novel
I should be working my story right now. I’m at 37,000 words, which is half of a real novel, and only 13,000 away from the NaNoWriMo novel goal. I have a basic idea where the plot is going, and plenty of scenes to flesh out, but I’m stuck because it’s gotten hard. I don’t know that I like my book. I don’t know that my story idea will pan out. I’m freaking out about continuity. I am doubting that my BBTTGTH (Big Bad Thing That’s Going To Happen) is a compelling enough conflict to drive character motivations. I’m struggling to write all the in-between stuff that strings together the really important plot-development scenes or the really fun-to-write action scenes. “Jade put on her shoes. They were brown. Jade walked down the boring gray street to the other place I haven’t really thought out where she’s going to do that thing that still isn’t very important, but it’s building up to it. Dear God, why am I so stupid and unable to do this and fill THE DAMNED SPACE ON THIS PAGE WITH WORDS THAT PEOPLE WILL WANT TO READ?!?!”
Larry Correia, novelist extraordinaire, covers this on his post about “The Writing Process.” Says Larry:
Here comes the dirty little secret of this business. Writing is hard work. Now, work can be lots of fun, but it is also work. You need to set a schedule, put your butt in the seat, hands on the keyboard, and friggin’ TYPE STUFF.
This is the part that stops most aspiring writers. They have a great idea. They’re enthusiastic as all get out. They sit down and start writing… and writing… and writing… and about 40,000 words in they discover that this is HARD.
Yep, now finish the book.
Give yourself time to work. Don’t kill yourself over it, but you have to put in the time to produce words. The reason I’m blogging right now is because I’m too sick and high on cold medicine to work on my current novel. I’ve got a killer deadline looming, but a man has to know his limitations.
Writers write. If I have only a limited amount of time, that’s when I’ll go back and edit bits and pieces or tackle small scenes. I save the good stuff for when I’m in the proper frame of mind. If I’m working on a part that’s not clicking, I’m not going to stop the whole project until it does. Nope. I’m going to skip ahead and write the next scene that I feel like writing. I can always go back and fill in that earlier scene when I feel like it.
Writer’s Block is a filthy lie. If somebody says they have Writer’s Block, they’re either being lazy and they really want to go play some Call of Duty, or they’re working on something that they’re just plain not interested in. Okay, fine. Stop that particular project that is boring you and go work on something else instead. If you’re absolutely stuck, go Free Write something to see if you can kick up the creative juices.
Let me tell you though, once you become a professional, and you’re doing this for a living, it doesn’t matter that you don’t feel like writing a particular thing at that time… Because your publisher has paid you an advance for that book and it is now on the schedule to be released at a certain date. You like having a job? I bet you do… Try telling your boss at your current job that you have Accountant’s Block and you just don’t feel like completing these taxes. “Oh, I’m sorry you’re having a cerebral hemorrhage, sir. I’ve got Brain Surgeon’s Block and I just can’t perform right now.”
See? Put your big girl panties on and write the darned book.
You put in enough time, eventually you’re going to have a finished book. Yay!
I wrote to Larry recently, and asked him about this whole writing thing. I talked a little about my struggle, and about how I have 57,000 kids who interrupt me when I’m in the zone (yes, I blamed the children, can you believe that?!?!) and yadda yadda.
He kindly responded:
On the writing, it just comes down to butt in seat, hands on keyboard. Even with the kids, I’d say just pick a time and schedule it as Daddy’s writing time. Sort of like going to the gym. You just have to do it. Then it just comes down to practice.
I agreed with him without ever telling him I never go to the gym.
Anyway, tonight, as I was procrastinating along, I decided to write back to him.
Said I, in a manner reminiscent of someone on crack:
So I’ve been thinking about all of this, and I’d like to submit a question for “Ask Correia.” You’ve mentioned that nobody will ever see the first novel you wrote because it sucked, even though you drew characters and concepts out of it for other stories.
But for people like me, grappling with this first, ugly, unwieldy draft of this first, ugly, unwieldy novel, what I’d love to hear about is what you learned from writing that first novel? How did it teach you in ways that changed your writing on future books? Was that whole process really just a trial run to figure out all the things you could never know about writing a complex work of fiction without actually writing a complex work of fiction? I’ve heard people say the whole reason you write a first novel isn’t to get it published, but to figure out how to do it at all so you’re better the next time.
I’m learning a lot already about how poorly I planned this out (I *did* just go with the first thing that came to mind for NaNoWriMo) and how little thought I really gave to the complexity of creating a self-contained, isolated, dystopian world. All the logistical problems of that command-and-control structure, the problem of food supply and manufacturing, of border security, of what the outside world was really doing that allowed this little bubble to continue, etc., it all didn’t even enter my mind.
I just thought, “Oh, yeah! PLOT REDACTED took over a city-state after a crazy war and used a PLOT REDACTED to fool the people into PLOT REDACTED! And there are all these weird animated-corpse cyborgs (like in the Black Hole but more ninja-esque) who do the PLOT REDACTED’s bidding and our hero is a young hacker chick with an anti-authoritarian streak and technokinesis put there by her father who worked for the government and saw this all coming but PLOT REDACTED EXCEPT HER MOM WHO WAS ACCUSED OF KILLING HIM AND IS NOW DRUGGED UP IN AN ASYLUM TO PLOT REDACTED?!?! F@*K YES!! I CAN’T WAIT TO SELL THE MOVIE RIGHTS!!!”
Anyway, grappling with this weird North-Korea-esque world I created and making it cohesive and interesting and not implausible is killing me, Smalls!
So I would be comforted by hearing what you learned. Sorry if this was a bit ranty and run-on. I’m procrastinating about writing, and searching teh interwebz for advice that will warm the cockles of my fearful, ADD-riddled heart.
Did you honestly think I was going to reveal critical elements of the plot here? COME ON! Sure, I told Larry, because while he might read my email is probably never going to read my book so, you know, caution to the wind and all that.
You see, though? These are the things that go through my head as I sit down to write. And I haven’t even opened the document and I’ve been here for an hour.
Make. It. Stop.
OK seriously. Time to dive in.
I’m really going this time.
Not even kidding.