I read back through this blog a couple days ago. While some of my most recent entries were interesting, the part I really found myself studying was my actual meta-entries from when I was writing Fratricide. Those short posts provided a fair amount of insight into how I pulled off a 50,000 word piece, and how I thought about it.
In reading that, I was jealous of myself, if that makes any sense. It became so clear that I had a sense of process and a clear goal from this book, and I wanted to make it happen. Even if it was a pretty flimsy scaffold from which to hang a story, I did some pretty cool things in both the initial writing and the editing that I was able to make work. When I start writing fiction again, a key part of my success will be to recapture that.
From a procedural point of view, I think I did all right with Fratricide. The ultimate problem is that “all right” is not sufficient to maintain writing discipline when you have a 9-5 job and a girlfriend, two things that did not interfere with my writing when I was in Pittsburgh in 2009. I think I have the maturity and discipline to step up my game, but I am aware that I’ve failed several times in the intervening years to start up a novel-length project. Knowing that, though, it’s my own fault that my failure is standing taller than my success. Even a relatively short 50,000 word novel is no mean feat for someone who hasn’t yet hit 30.
One of the things I acutely recall from writing Fratricide was that I had only the vaguest idea of what I was doing, or where it should go. That has not been recaptured by any stretch of the imagination. I spend more time worrying about plot and direction now than I ever have, and that’s before I even have the start of a novel. Part of the problem of course is that it cuts both ways…some of my earlier projects had no clear sense of direction, and that really hurts the writing momentum. On the other hand, the one project I actually outlined from start to end fell on its face before I even had 3,000 words written. Clearly there needs to be some middle ground.
Ultimately, I don’t know why Fratricide came to fruition and made it to completion (of a draft at least). I think a lot of it had to do with time, some had to do with my willingness to project my own relationship angst straight onto the page, and a lot of it had to do with my unemployment and projection of self-worth onto the project. Without that, writing a novel, for me at least, is a very low-risk affair. I have a full-time job, nothing is riding on my writing. To be honest, I don’t think that helps, but it gets you sitting back down every day. And it’s that first 7-10,000 words that’s so difficult…once you have that many words on the page, there’s enough there to start some sort of flow. Once you have 10,000 words, your characters pop enough that you actually want to see what happens. But getting to 10,000 words can be so hard. 10,000 words from a technical writing perspective is 40 pages, roughly. 40 pages to go through before you become committed?? Well no wonder it’s difficult. But that might be the key after all.
40 pages is more than enough to make your setting become real to you. But that goal is a very different one from telling the story. So this goes back to the idea of writing preparation versus outlining. On one hand, how much material do writers actually create solely as reference and support? On the other hand, how many writers sat down and just wrote a story, full-formed? And in the middle, why is it that so many authors keep returning to the same setting?
The story in my mind always starts very thin, it’s up to future writing to reinforce it. But at the very least, I can’t stop with the writing just because I don’t yet see the point. Even if I still don’t know what my prep work really looks like, I still have to do it.