Welcome to this month’s Insecure Writers Support Group post. You can join in by signing up at insecurewriterssupportgroup.com where you’ll also find the long list of people to visit each month. I tend to visit all my ‘follow’ blogs and at least ten new ones each month, although I don’t always make it. There is also a monthly prompt, which I sometimes follow, and sometimes don’t.
Unless the powers that be have got the same idea as me (not that unlikely, given it’s November), I’m not following the prompt. I received divine inspiration from the god of writing advice, Chuck Wendig, the dude who also gives us a flash fiction prompt each Friday. Chuck wrote this post with advice to everyone participating in National Novel Writing Month, and his topic number seven resonated so much that I’m taking it as my text for today.
Be aware of tracts of bumpy road. See them. Know when they’re coming. For me, I’m going to hit trouble writing a novel somewhere around the 33% mark and the 50% mark. I know a lot of newer writers, and this was true for me, had problems right at the start and then also around the middle. I dunno when they’ll be for you, but they’ll be there. The road will get bumpy. You just have to keep driving. Meaning, you just gotta keep writing. Put words on paper next to each other. One after the other, like footsteps. Chuck Wendig terribleminds.com
It’s the best advice I ever saw about writing: just keeping putting one word after the other, like footsteps. He probably said it a long time ago, or when I first discovered him, because I’ve made it my watchword ever since.
If you take a step back and look at it, novel-writing is a fascinating process. All it is, is putting words in sequence. The trouble comes when you have to edit it into something that’s actually good. But if you’re in NaNoWriMo every word counts, so keep writing them. If you’re not doing NaNo (I never have time for that in November, which is why I do Camp NaNo if I need the pressure of a deadline around me), every word still counts because until you’ve finished you don’t know what you may need in the end. You’re writing a first draft. It’s going to need a lot of work before it’s ready. And maybe sometimes I don’t always give it as much work as it needs, but that harks back to when do you know your story is ready.
I was writing what eventually came out as book 5 in the Princelings series, The Talent Seekers, so it must have been 2012, when I learned the value of keeping all that I wrote in NaNo. I had my customary five sentence outline, but my main character, Humphrey, was wavering between joining a group of outlaws and trying to find a secure place in a regular castle (the working title was just ‘The Way West’). I didn’t really know which way he should go, and my writing was wavering between the two. He went to the castle with the outlaws, left it again, and I wondered, as I wrote about his travel over the grassy downs of the chalk hills, whether I was as lost as he was. Then he got back to the castle and an incident took place where the army came in and started to take control. And I thought, no, this is far too early, having written about 2000 words with the army involved.
Well, you don’t want to throw away 2000 words during NaNo. It’s a day’s work, after all. So I went back to the natural point, where Humphrey had returned to the castle, and wrote a whole load of new adventure for him, that took us deeper into the mysteries of what became the ‘talent’ that was being sought. And the bit with the army turned up just right for the second to last chapter, I think – pretty near the end, anyway.
But I vividly remember thinking while I was writing that middle bit, that I was just plodding along, putting one word after another, just like Humphrey plodding on against his will, leaving the castle behind.
I also remember stopping for a couple of days while writing book 4, The Traveler in Black and White, when Hugo had reached a point where all the things he’d been doing had to make some climactic sense. Taking the logical next step, plodding on with my writing, I suddenly realised what would happen, and just needed to change one phrase early on to make it all make sense.
These sticking points where your writing needs hard work to slog through may be at 33% or 50% like Chuck Wendig’s, or more like me at 50% and 70% (as well as the start). But just keep writing, follow your character’s lead, and you’ll find yourself, and your story, again.
And there’s always the editing pen afterwards!
Where do you finding your sticking points?
You’ll be pleased to hear I’m in the middle of writing a piece for the Princelings website Christmas story… featuring the pirates, or should I call them ex-pirates, or something else?