On November 24th, I faced a crisis.
Since the month started, I had been doing National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo, for short), a challenge where you write a complete novel of 50,000 words (approximately two hundred pages) in the thirty days of November. Since I write thick fantasy books, I wasn’t thinking of completing a novel. I wanted to write three good chapters for the climax of The Originals, a sequel to my epic fantasy, The Changelings.
Three good chapters. Didn’t sound so hard.
November 24 arrived, and I crossed the 50,000 word mark, 6 days ahead of schedule. Great. But I hadn’t written my three chapters, no, not at all. I’d written about one and a half. And good? Forget good. The writing was all over the place. I’d mope around with my main character’s feeling for a paragraph or two and then swing wildly into politics. Or I’d spend 30 pages figuring out how to set up a battle and summarize the actual fight in about a page. I’d go one way, go back, and zig-zag the other way. It was--it is--a mess. An unreadable mess. And yet it was all good stuff that I needed to write.
Some authors have a vision of their novel in their head, or at least on their outline. Not me. I have to write and write and write until I see that vision. It’s not that I don’t have ideas, but the ideas are nebulous things and pinning them down is like pinning down vapor. I write until I see what I want. Once I have my vision, I can work to make my writing good. I organize scenes, condense the plot, dramatize emotions, expand the good parts, delete the bad parts, and make the words ring pretty.
I know that all this messiness will eventually turn into good (or at least readable) writing. I know because I’ve done it before. Having spent twenty years writing novels, I can start to say I know what I’m doing. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I look at my 50,000 words, and I think, It’s too much, and at the same time, It’s not enough.
Too much. Not enough.
I’ve been thinking about the phrase, as I walk the dog and pick up trash by the side of the road. Now picking up trash is just me trying to get my good deed in for the day, but I start looking at the trash and I think, “Man, this is never going to be all picked up.” It’s a nice neighborhood, and yet, in a short thirty-minute walk, I can easily fill up two grocery bags full of trash. And still there’s more.
And I think, if my great calling in life were to clean up the environment, I would be in despair, because just trying to keep the neighborhood clean takes so much time and effort--let alone dealing with pollution and chemical spills and recycling and trash on a mass level. In the grand scheme of things, one person picking up trash is a drop in a bucket.
However, since the environment is not my great calling, I can look at the situation with more distance and less expectations. I’m not trying to fix all the problems of the environment. I’m not even trying to fix one. I just want to do something good and be happy about it. Knowing there will always be trash just means there will always be something for me to do.
Which makes me think the phrase “too much,” and “not enough,” really means, “Too much work and not enough reward.” In this case the reward, is the result. The accomplishment. Saying, “I did something and here is the proof.”
For me, three good chapters means I can show them to my dad (who is my biggest fan) and let him read them. I can feel like I’ve actually accomplished something on schedule for once. I can feel proud of myself as I put the three nice chapters away and rest. I didn’t get that. I got a mess. An incomplete mess. I got another month or two of writing to complete the mess (if I’m lucky) and months more work to turn it into something my dad can read.
And you’d think that getting in 2000 words a day--for me, a writer--would be easy. It’s not. You’d think I could get in my 50,000 words and still play with other writing. I can’t. You’d think I’d want to give up my evenings and movies and T.V. shows to play around in my own little world. I don’t. And what’s most frustrating of all is that every hour I give up to write this story--this massive, pain-in-the-butt epic that never seems any closer to being finished--is an hour I could have spent on another piece of writing. For example, Company, my ghost and imaginary friend story that I am desperately trying to finish by 2020.
I mean, a rational person would give up, right? If it’s too much work, for not enough reward, the solution is to stop and do something else. And yet I don’t. I keep going. Because I’m not rational? Because I’m delusional, crazy even? Maybe.
Or maybe it’s not really “too much.” This is writing, after all. I wasn’t bleeding or crying or losing too much sleep. I wasn’t miserable. In fact, when I got into it, I really quite enjoyed it.
And maybe it’s not really “not enough.” To everyone else, my writing may be an unreadable mess, but I see the value in it. It is not the writing itself that is important, but the knowledge I’ve gained from it. I can see the path to the end, even if I’m not quite there yet.
No, the real problem is that I’m impatient. That’s it.
My novels take time. I know this. My writing process is slow and winding, and any attempts I make to change or “improve” this process blows up in my face. If I rush to what I think are the most important plot points, I will find myself going in the wrong direction. I’ll have to re-write it. If I slowly and meticulously craft and edit every detail to perfection, I will find I’ve wasted time on the wrong things. I will have to cut it. But if I explore all the winding roads, up and down, following my intuition, until I see where it is I’m going--then, my writing gets done.
It’s hard. But what else can I do? Really all I can do is accept that this will take longer than I want, stop putting pressure on myself to do better, sit down and write, and be satisfied with what I’ve got.
The work will always be here. And maybe that’s okay.
Total word count: 60,445.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.