How I keep writing a book
Settling down into a solid word count – which I take to be anything over forty thousand words – feels, at first, a bit like swimming in a lake with no lifeguard on duty and unknown depths below – you mean, I’m really doing this, I’m still swimming? Wow, that’s a bit….scary.
How I keep writing a book is a big part of the challenge. But since we can only write one word at a time, it doesn’t have to be scary. Just like learning a new swimming stroke, writing short pieces or long, proceeds one idea at a time, one word, one phrase.
It is tempting to write any old guff, just so we can say, Look See! I wrote five thousand words today! This is a synch. And actually, it can be useful to do that, just to prove to ourselves that we have the mechanical ability, as it were, to string that many words together. Plus, if ten thousand sloppy words produce one or two good ideas, a new development, one twist we weren’t expecting, they are worth having written.
Having said that, when I get to about twenty-five thousand words, I itch to stop, take stock and start editing, cutting and refining, which we all probably start from the beginning, though we can just as easily plunge in anywhere. (Just because we have hewn our rock of marble from the rockface, doesn’t mean we can’t then carve from it something more artistic. If we want a rough, unhewn and noble rock to stand testament, that’s fine. If we want to carve a statue like David, we better have the courage to edit.)
So long as I don’t use I am editing as my excuse to stop writing, to stall and start doubting, it is useful to take stock. We can’t be in creative flow constantly, and editing is an essential companion to the authorial genie. A genre like women’s fiction expects roughly 80,000 – 85,000 words in a book, but that is no excuse to make them rough, repetitive or awkward words. This early in Second Stage writing, I’m not yet obsessing about commas – though I will, later! – only aiming for a straight, clean and hopefully entertaining sense of what I’m trying to say.
I find that, as I start to refine, consider and re-write, the first ten chapters end up being the most edited, the most read, the most carefully considered; while at the other end of the book, I am still doing Phase One work, considering creative developments and plot twists. I very rarely have a plot outline – though for this series I have found using a diary, fixing a year for my characters, indispensable – so I usually end up having two or three different writing processes on the go: Editing a middle section, say, while writing to boost my word count, and mulling over possibilities for the end, the final denouements. Funny things, denouements, they can arrive out of no-where, so I keep a very light rein on that aspect, inviting it to surprise me.
Thanks for reading.