Let The Dogs Out


Fair warning, if you’re not a writer, you can skip this one.

Fair-er warning, if you ARE a writer (and really, who else would read this far with no pictures of cats), you might want to skip this one as well.

It’s going to get a bit whingy, and you’ve probably got a lot better things to do than suffer through my suffering.

Like writing your own book. Or curing cancer. That sort of thing.

Why So Serious?

This may be somewhat spoiler-y, but I’m working on a couple new things that I can’t discuss as directly as I’d like to. (This parenthetical text will be adjusted in days/weeks/months to come as more details become available, and won’t you feel smart when you remember to check back with this post and see if you are right?)

I’ve been struggling today with a transitional chapter. It’s one that’s necessary to get the protagonist into a specific frame of mind, and I have a fairly clear version about what’s going on, both in the environment and with the characters. In fact, I blocked quite a bit of it out when I plotted the third act earlier this week.

But unlike my last 10 days of very productive work, the last 10 hours have been really slow going. So much so that in three attempts today, I’ve really only worked through half the scene, around 750 words of what what I’d estimated as a 6 pager (around 1250 words). Some folks call this being blocked, but for me its usually a sign that something’s not working the way I want it to.

This blog is about fixing that sort of problem, so let’s “walk and talk.”

There’s a couple several few reasons why I think this is happening. One of them is that now that I’m in the “end game,” I’m off script and just seeing where the plot takes me. I’m trying a few new things with this book, and though I’m way ahead of my contracted deadline (and yes, my editor will see this post), I expected to be finished with the manuscript today. It’s vicious little cycle when you beat yourself up for being successful, and also for not being as successful as you think you ought to be.

I have a lot of author friends who think my daily output is somewhat staggering. It’s a product of some rather demanding day job workloads over the last ten years or so, a period in which I’ve somewhat laughingly described myself as a marketing hack. I’m very good at delivering what a stakeholder wants, but I’m also prone to getting ahead of their request and giving them what I think they need instead. I write fast, so that I have time to write the text again if necessary. I function very well in a collaborative environment, where an editor/manager and I can bounce ideas back and forth over a day or so and really get a superior product on the table.

In a business setting, this is a good/great thing. In “private practice,” without this regular feedback loop it can be paralyzing. I like to think that I’m not as high maintenance a writer as this makes me sound, but it’s most likely the reason that my short fiction isn’t really catching on with magazine/web site editors. I’m sending things out when they’re “good enough,” instead of working with my network to get them right.

And given the current state of the publishing industry, these days “right” more or less means “perfect.”

It’s a first draft. It’s not as important as it feels. My outline got me a contract, and a nice advance that helped remove some of the stress in my life. But delivering a book as promised will get me a more money, and as I said, I’ve got plenty of time. There’s no need for me to rush, or agonize over my delusional lack of progress. Last time around, the editorial process made my book so much better than it could have been. But I’ll freely admit that during the last step, I missed several problems that I myself introduced, and every time I see them I cringe.

These, too can be corrected, but first impressions are sometimes the only ones you get.

On to problem number two. Simply put, this chapter isn’t really about the protagonist, though it does advance the plot. It’s from the POV of a secondary character whose role is greatly expanded from my original outline. So much so, in fact, that he/she/it is present for exactly one paragraph of said outline, and never really resolved.

The current state of his/her/its affairs is far better, and much better storytelling. But although it drives the plot, reveals important information, and is some good storytelling, it’s very visual, and not so much with the dialog. Even the internal stuff I like so much. I’ve got the file open right now, and there’s exactly 4 lines of dialog in the aforementioned 750 words. 5, if you count inarticulate hissing, and possibly a few more depending on how you feel about screaming victims.

Have I got you hooked in? I hope so, because on my end of the words, I’m really not feeling it. There’s 4 paragraphs of blocking left, which should turn into about 600 more words. The next chapter moves back to the protagonist, and I honestly think that the two paragraphs I’ve set down there will become around 1700 words of action.

I like this sub character. The arc really improves the book, but I have the distinct feeling it’s going to change a bunch in post. And I don’t like writing words that won’t get used.

Nope, not at all.

Part the third. As mentioned previously I’m off script now. So much so that I went ahead and wrote the last chapter in the book, since it’s got less at stake than this one, even though it has a much greater emotional impact. That chapter was on script, as are the two that immediately precede it. All three are full of pure, unadulterated plot resolution goodness. The current chapter is important to me, and I want it to work. I want you the reader to be happy with it. I want, want, WANT to feel about it the way I do about an earlier chapter, which is creeped the heck out.

So far I’m coming back with “eh.” So much Eh, that I’ve just spent the better part of an hour and over a thousand words explaining why I haven’t written 600.

I think we can all agree that the time might have been better spent.

Ia! Ia!
Ia! Ia!

At this point in the piece, those 600 words are precious story real estate. They’re butting up against words that I know are absolutely essential to finishing the project, and I’m more likely than not going to skip ahead again tomorrow (or possibly the next day) and work through the rest of them.

Because I can. Because the solution to not writing is really, “shut up and write.” Because I’ve distracted you with a lot of hand-wavy words and imagery, when all you want to do is tell me how awesome it is that I’m writing a new book, and how much you really enjoyed the last one.

And because you’ve come all this way with me expecting a certain something based on the title of this post, and as such deserve a little happy time. I know that I do.

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