Thursday, February 4, 2016

The familiar start-stop of first drafting

I think most writers are familiar with spots in a first draft where writing flows easily, and where it feels like you've taken a nude-dive into a patch of cacti and now have the tweezer-assisted task of removing each and every one of those prickly spines.

(uhm, yeah. sorry about that visual...)

Beginnings are like... well, they're the most effortless part of writing for me. I get caught up in a new voice and race forward, just exploring the fun, new perspective and problems I've landed myself in. Usually I get to around the 20,000-30,000 word mark before I start to stutter...

...and the place I always get stuck is somewhere between the 2/3 and 3/4 point...

That's where I am at the moment in AotD -> face-down, spread-eagle in the Ferocactus patch.

I think I've only written about 1,000 words in the last two weeks, so of course I feel like a horrible slacker who is in dire need of serious self-flagellation to get back on track :)

...but at the same time, this is familiar, I've done it before, so I know I'll eventually puzzle through it.

And I know why I always get stuck at this same point.

(somehow, that's the frustrating part. that I understand it, but still can't overcome it. I just have to let it work itself out in its own time.)

I get stuck here because I'm not a plotter.

And no, the reason I'm stuck isn't because I don't know how the story is going to end.

(I don't think I would keep writing a story if I knew how it would end. that's 99% of the joy, writing to discover what happens!)

The reason I get stuck is because my stories are always driven by character, not plot.

So it's when I can't grasp a character's motivation/emotions/etc that I get stuck, because it's their decisions or reactions that determine how the next scene will play out.

For most of the story, I'm just running after the main characters, only concerned about what they want and how they think/feel, but at that 2/3 -> 3/4 point, my brain jumps in and goes, "hang on, what about everyone else? What about all the other characters who have a role in the climax/ending? What do they want and what have they been thinking/feeling this whole time?"

...which is suddenly overwhelming to realize that I know nothing about the characters who instigated this whole thing in the first place...

(but duh, this is familiar, this happens in every first draft... so why do I still feel surprised?) 

...and, my poor little dyslexic brain overheats and shuts down.

Yeah. So, Sikka & Komil & Mica & Selka, the four characters I've been running after, they're good. I know what they all want and how they're thinking/feeling...

But Issa? And the mysterious god/monster who spirited her away at the beginning of the story?

Uuuuuuuuuuuhm, yeah. Drawing a complete and total blank, kinda like the blue screen of death.

/force reboot

/force reboot

/force reboot...

The logical part of my brain tries to slap some sense into me and says, "uhm, idiot, you don't need to know that until you get there, so let it go and focus on the scene you're currently writing..."

But unfortunately that's easily said and not so easily done. The 'letting it go' part.

...I think it's a similar impulse to wanting to flip to the last page of a really intense book to see if your favourite character is still alive...

My brain wants to skip ahead, even though that's not how it works... because if I knew how the story ended, I would lose the enthusiasm to write and 'find' the end...

Contradictory, yes. Mildly frustrating, yes. Somewhat hilarious, yes.

Because I always take great joy in laughing at myself and I welcome others to join in on the fun :)


/removes cactus spine from unmentionable location...

Yeah. I've got a mountain, a hot-spring, a drop-spindle, and a mysterious line about 'stars'...

Those I need to write before I get to Issa & the god/monster...

...and I really can't skip ahead because this is the first book I've written where I'm not even sure who'll be alive on the final page...

And would I really want to finish this story if I knew, say, Selka bites it on the final page?


No. I might cry. A lot.

(it's no secret that I am completely obsessed with Selka...)

/removes anther cactus spine

Well, let's see how this goes :) I think I may take off to my favourite Fort Langley cafe tomorrow to drink raspberry black tea and hope the change in scenery will kick my stubborn brain back onto the right path so I can find out what the heck is going to happen in the end...

The nice part is, I've been reading a crazy amount of books while not-writing :)

How about you guys? Are there certain parts of a story you find you get stuck at, and other places where it's easy?  Any tricks that work for you?

...or am I living in this strange, vaguely disturbing world all on my own?


  1. Hmm. For me, the first 10-20K fly by. And then I figure out what I am writing and where it going; sometimes the draft just ends, and I begin again knowing better where it's going, or just power on through with notes about [X must change in draft 2] but a lot of that depends on the character's voices in my head and how well I can hold onto them at the time.

    The 2/3-3/4 mark is always 'uh, how do I get to the ending? Where am I?' and the endings are always rushed in the first drafts as I see the lights at the end of the tunnel :) I think knowing all that does help, though. And making a world notes file as I go definitely helps at least figure out the next draft.

    (I came across an old WIP thing; I *think* it involved a genie and a werewolf being in love, but I kept no notes file so I just have the story file and was reading it in bemusement trying to figure out wth it even was :))

    1. Yes, but you're like the fastest writer I know... AND you write crazy amounts of words!

      So, sounds like we always get stuck in around the same place then. BUT, I've heard from other people that the beginning is the hardest for them, or the ending...

      Hahaha, a genie & werewolf?

    2. I *think* so. I know the one character was a werewolf, dealing with Family Stuff. And bit someone's sofa to make a weresofa by accident. But having no file ABOUT it makes it difficult to be sure. The genie is a mummy of some kind, and the werewolf was allergic to fur. There is also a version of Scully and Mulder where he believes everything is angelic and demonic and not in demons at all. I *think* it was parody of something, but no longer recall what :)

      ... oh. Actually found notes, though they're so sparse as to not help at all anyway.

    3. the creator of the original 'pizza popsicle', I completely believe you included a weresofa in one of your stories :)

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Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)