I fear that this post hits at a tragic time for me. I have some time, but I’m reporting from the abyss, from the famous 65,000-word black hole of self-doubt and hair-pulling that occurs in a novel first draft when you start a book—and write pretty much the entire thing—without knowing how it will end.
Pantsers of the world, unhinge!
I could hide behind the fact that I have a novel being published. You would probably take me at my word if I said, Oh, sure, here’s how you do it.
Except that feels disingenuous to me right now. Because this? This is how you do it.
At least, this is how I’ve done it before. While writing The Black Hour, I got bogged down at just about 65K words into the draft, and had no idea who, how, or why things had happened.
Now, here I am again with my Work In Progress. Just about 65K words into the draft, THUNK. That’s the sound of me hitting a wall, face first.
So how did I finish that book, a book that will shortly be available for purchase in your finest bookstores across the nation and your favorite online book retailers?
1. I stopped writing.
2. I got out a notebook.
3. I scribbled lots of thoughts and connections and bad ideas.
4. When I hit on an idea that wasn’t half bad, that solved the novel problem in a way I liked, I went back to writing.
5. I finished the book.
I’m supposed to tell you how to keep writing, and I just told you to stop? Go ahead and ask for your money back.
But it’s true. Sometimes I need a break from the Word doc. It’s the forest for the trees in there, you know?
I stop. I make a map. I figure out where I am. I figure out how far off track I’ve gone. When my internal GPS kicks in and I know where I’m going, I get back on the road, and get to my destination all the faster for having had the break.
That’s me. Your mileage may vary. I know for a fact that my fellow Debs and our guest this Saturday will have better, more professional advice for you, so standby for them to tell you something you can take to the bank.
But if you’re lost, and continuing to write seems to be taking you further from the road, go ahead and take a minute and get out the map. (You have to draw the map, actually.) There’s no shame in asking for directions: read an author you admire, call a writing friend for encouragement, take the dog (or yourself) for a walk, take a shower or a drive (all the best ideas arrive this way), or go back to the beginning of your book and remind yourself why this story matters. Find the way-finding tactics that work best for you, and then make friends with them.
Because it’s likely that you’ll need them for your next book, too.
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