The End

Today I wrote those magic words: The End.

Little Gray Mouse - The End (67)

I’ve been working on this particular WIP since before I started this blog, so long I can’t even remember when I first had the dream that started it.

This isn’t actually the first draft as such, it’s the first full draft. The first first draft (with its many rewritten beginnings and approximate word-count of 27,387) lay down and died of apathy in June last year, and by that October I was ready to hit the road running, having taken some time to plan.

Admittedly, I did at that point think I could finish the first draft by the end of the year while working full-time. I did finish it by the end of the year, just not that year.

The reason it took so long is that it is so long: the approximate final word-count was 158,840 words. Yup. One hundred and fifty-eight thousand, eight hundred and forty. There are languages with fewer words than that.

Dicti indent

The reason for this length, I suspect, is that I wrote down everything. Screeds of stuff that I know won’t be in the final draft, details that are inessential to the plot, but all things that I needed to know. I couldn’t just write “She climbed the cliff-face,” I had to know each hand- and foot-hold. (And now that I know, I can edit them out.)

That’s one of the many insights I’ve had about myself as a writer during the course of this draft. There have been a few.

I work best in big chunks, since it takes me so long to pick up the threads.

A short stint is more fruitful than nothing, but more frustrating (see above).

Inspiration can strike at any time, but a pen acts as a lightning rod. A pen in the hand, that is. Lightning rods don’t lie flat.

I need to re-learn the mechanics of writing, so my wrist and hand don’t start to ache after six pages or so.

When I’m writing, I often appear to be staring out the window. I don’t always see what’s happening outside. (I brake break for posties!)

Woman staring out window (4)

Once I know exactly what happens next, I can hit speeds that surprise even me: yesterday I wrote eighteen pages. Long-hand. In the last week, I wrote over fifty pages, forty-two of them in three days. (Yes, my wrist hurts.)

According to some, the current length is “epic”, although I’m sure it’ll be much smaller once I’ve finished the doubtless epic series of rewrites that lie ahead of me.
But not just yet. I think I’ll potter for the rest of the month, and probably work on something else first in the new year, just to give myself the distance that lends perspective.

And to celebrate my “epic” achievement, I’m going to invest in a brand-new shiny fountain pen, just like I promised myself.

The Seven Lessons of the Week

And I thought last week was rough!

It’s the middle of Saturday and I’m still short 1800 words. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make that up (in both senses of the word) in just one day.

But I’ve learned from this week, hard as it has been to fall so short.

SPLAT

Lesson 1: don’t try to cook something new the night you’re supposed to be breaking the back of the week’s word-count. I got beat by the beets (and they dyed my hands pink).

Beet hands

Lesson 2: when ‘persuading’ a catweasel to release the bird in his mouth, wear gauntlets. Otherwise he may plug a bit of bird-feather into your hand and the wound will become infected, lessening usefulness of hand. (Supplementary note: make sure all pieces of now-deceased bird are removed from hand wound, or pain and swelling will be ongoing.)

Gauntlets

Lesson 3: storms happen (literally and figuratively). If you need to spend extra time in the morning figuring out what you’re going to wear when walking to work in 200 kph winds (that’s 125 mph for the imperialists), take the time.

walk

Lesson 4: know where you’re going. Roughly. I get bored if it’s all nailed down, but it turns out I can’t pull stuff out of the air for any length of time. I spent my two writing mornings this week trying to nut out some dramatic needs for the characters – once I know why characters do things, it’s easier to figure out what they’re going to do.

Now All I need is a Cape

Lesson 5: it’s just numbers. You can’t let them scare you. Dig down deep, find your motivation, and write. Remind yourself why this story should be told. Then tell it, as best you can. No one else will tell it for you.

Storyteller - D7K 3359 ep

Lesson 6: when you don’t know what happens next and it all seems to be palling on you, throw in something unexpected. This was part of my I Will column.

Ruins in the woods

Lesson 7: There’s only one way to do it. Pen in hand…

Talent vs. Character

Which is more important, effort or success?

If asked, I would say effort, but apparently I don’t really believe it. As the saying goes, you believe not what you say you believe, or even what you think you believe, but what you act as though you believe. If your money isn’t there, it doesn’t matter where your mouth is.

52/365.

The first two weeks of my finish-the-first-draft-by-the-end-of-the-year regime went well.
I wrote more than I expected on the Monday evenings and was thus under no pressure on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
I sailed over my word count target with relatively little effort (besides a savagely aching hand, of which more another time).

Better Than Before

I was pleased with myself and my achievement.

This week was different.
I think my fear of the unknown – in this case the unknown Thing That Happens Next – slowed me down on Monday evening – I struggled and sulked and tried to keep writing something, anything. I ended up with just over 1,400 words – 1,000 fewer than the Monday before.

And then on Wednesday when I should have been chipping off another 400 words, Life Happened (in a good way for once) and I didn’t write a word.

So there I was on Thursday with 1,100 words to go (although my shonky late-night arithmetic convinced me it was only 900, which looking back was probably a mercy). I was expecting to arrive home late and tired on Friday, and due to be out most of Saturday (happens every six weeks or so). Opportunities to write were limited.

I think I know what went wrong.

The chances of making my target were not good, which made me feel depressed, which made me feel even less up to writing.
So what did I do once I’d picked myself up out of my sad little heap on the floor?
I used the half hour I still had left to write.

When I didn’t know what to write next, I kept going, one sentence after another, inventing word by word and not stopping to worry about whether the words were worth writing.
When I ran out of ink, I filled my pen with the new purple ink and kept going.
When the purple ink turned out to be more magenta than amethyst (horror!), I kept going.

Possibly like this, depending on your screen. (And your eyes.)

[Incidentally, thanks to the wonders that are Wikipedia, I can now identify the colour as somewhere between Fandango (this made me feel better) and Flirt (this didn’t).]

I only managed 400-odd words, but I’d kept going.
I managed another 300-odd on Friday morning.

The mathematically astute among you will realise that this still left me a few hundred short, but there was still some time. And if Life Happened again and I didn’t get there, well, at least I’d know I tried.

Last chance: Saturday night. The evening stretched out before me. I had my chance. And I didn’t feel like taking it. Like a nervous horse, I had to bring myself up to the fence I don’t know how many times before I lurched over.

Complet-cysoing-cross-014

I sat down, I picked up the pen, and I finished it. 425 words – over the line.

Looking back, I feel I should be more pleased with myself for what I accomplished this week than the two weeks before, and yet I’m not, really. Could it be that deep down I still believe it’s more important to succeed than to endeavour?

Is character of so little account with me that I believe achievement without effort to be of more value than making less headway in adverse conditions?

Perseverance (43/365)

To do something well without effort argues a natural ability, which is beyond my control. To do somewhat less well with effort argues perseverance, which is a matter of character, and not innate.

So maybe this week I’m not a better writer on the face of things. But I am a better person, and I hope that will work its way into my writing.

"The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary." - Vince Lombardi

As Calvin Coolidge said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.”
(I am tempted to think that if he had lived to see modern reality TV, he would have added that here the reverse is true: nothing is more common than successful people without talent.)

Whether or not success comes to me is beyond my control. Whether or not I persist is not. So here’s to one more week knocked off – and to the twenty-eight still to come.