Writing Progress: Week Ending October 15, 2011

So I had a really good week, this week:

Book of M:

  • Background Notes Wordcount: 5,389 words

Grand Total: 5,389 words

This week ranks among one of my better weeks, writing-wise, and that’s a pretty good feeling.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough to finish all of the prep-work I need to do for this novel.  I’ve written between two-thirds to three-quarters of the relevant history of the world this tale takes place in.  I’ve switched to a format that somewhere between outline and narrative to complete the history.  But I’ve still only got a handful of character bios written (like two or three out of something around about a dozen or more), and I still don’t have an outline.

And… most important of all… I don’t have an ending.

I’d been hoping that as I work through the background and other notes, that an ending would make itself obvious to me: something that’s intuitive that ties together all the pieces and elements of the tale (and there are quite a few).  But so far, it hasn’t come to me.  I’m mulling over a couple possible options… but neither excites me.  There are aspects of each that tie different elements together, but leave others completely unconnected.  I want an ending that brings them all together.  And… I guess it’s part of how I work… but the way I’ve always written, I almost always, with rare exception, know the ending before I start. 

Part of the problem, I guess, is that this is conceptually a stand-alone novel… but also one that I want to leave things just open enough that I could write a second to go with it.

Endings are difficult to get right, of course.  So maybe it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.

Productivity-wise, this was an interesting week.  It was a very good week, as compared to my average.  But the large majority of that productivity was completed on just one day – Sunday last week.  I don’t get opportunities to sit and write uninterrupted for hours at a time very often – but I relish those opportunities when they come.  The crazy ups and downs of productivity this week have given me a lot to think about.  I may talk about that later this week.

Well… that’s pretty much how my week went.  Tell me about yours.

19 thoughts on “Writing Progress: Week Ending October 15, 2011

  1. Novel-wise, the word-count isn’t all that I’d hoped. On the other hand, I did get past a chapter that I was feeling a little apprehensive about writing, just because I wasn’t 100% sure of the way I wanted to go with it (which, now that I think about it, more or less sums up my whole experience with this book. So much for prep work). My senior minstrel and I co-wrote a great song to go in the chapter I’m hoping to finish up today, and I wrote a short story that received cheering reviews from a friend who’d never seen any of my stories before, so *that* was boss.
    So all in all, probably a less unproductive week than it feels. Reeeeally hoping to get the last couple sections of my novel wrapped up this week — I think I can just *barely* make out the end from here…!

      • To distinguish between my two main minstrel characters, father and son, I’ll often characterize the father as “senior”. Age and experience are indeed on his side, particularly song-writing experience, since music is his life. I’m not so proud that I won’t turn to him if I know my song needs to be tops (which is good, since he’s proud enough for several of us).

  2. Good job on the writing front! I would try to sort out some kind of ending though, even if you decide to change it part way through. Knowing the ending always gives some sort of trajectory to follow / direction, but I know not everyone works that way.

    This weekend I finished the 7th round of edits. *big huge sigh of relief* So I have a few days to prep for the conference 😉

    • Excellent. Kudos and all that! Good luck getting ready for the conference. For myself: yes, I want to sort out the ending before hand. Not having it figured out is one of the things that’s been bugging me about this novel. For now I’ll keep working on the background stuff… hoping that as I uncover more of the relevant history, more connections will be made in my mind, and an ending will present itself.

  3. Kudos on your progress.

    I have a question for you, that I hope won’t derail your current surge. Why are you devoting so much time to background?

    Personally I can’t imagine writing more than a few hundred words of backstory before I’ve begun actually writing about the characters’ interactions and their involvement in the central conflict. Backstory can’t really drive the real story, can it? I know if it were me, and I were missing an ending, it would form up from writing about the “now” of the characters. And actually, the backstory usually forms up the same way.

    I know Tolkien created nearly all of Middle Earth from it’s gods to its languages before he ever wrote one word of The Hobbit. But he was in the trenches of World War I when he began that project, trying to keep his sanity with his friends dying around him. I think that’s not the best model for fantasy and sci-fi writers to follow.

    But writing the background first works for you, right? Can you shed some light on why that is?

    • That’s a good question, actually. I occassionally blog about my writing process here, but I’ll try to give a summarized version here. In very broad strokes, as you may already know, there are generally two kinds of writers. You might call these “Planners” and “Pantsers” (as in “fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants”), or “Planners” and “Discovery Writers”. Another set of terms I’ve heard more recently is “Architects” and “Gardeners”. This is a bit of a simplification: in fact these two types exist as endpoints on a continuum. But some writers do more of the work of writing up front and some on the back-end. I’ve read about some writers who start with a vague inkling of character and plot or direction, and then start writing, discovering who the characters are and what the plot is as they go along. Some of these writers can’t even conceive of the idea of pre-planning anything: it would totally disrupt their writing process.

      For me, I’m closer to the other end of that spectrum. I like to have a better idea of the characters, their world, and the direction of the plot before I start drafting. I probably do between half and three-quarters of the “discovery” process up-front.

      Regardless of where you put the effort in the process, the fact is that there are some things you’ll need to do at some point in writing a story. You need to get to know your characters. You need an understanding of the structure of the story. You need a strong beginning and a satisfying conclusion. And so on. But when you need to do this isn’t exactly set in stone. Your process could be that you get halfway through, then figure all that stuff out, then finish. Or you can write the whole book and then come to an understanding of that stuff organically from the text you’ve written, then go back and rewrite it so that it supports those things more strongly.

      I’ll agree, generally, that creating every detail of the world, to the minute level that Tolkien did, before starting writing probably isn’t the best process. But really, that depends on your goals. But for me, I need to have some of that down – I feel that the plot of the story grows out of not just the characters but the world itself (which is sort of like another character), and I feel more confident about my writing when I know what my direction is at each point in the process. So I try to figure out who the characters are and what’s important and interesting about the world that feeds the plot, then to build a rough structure for that plot before I begin. Then when I’m writing, I have that sense of confidence and direction, and I can totally be in the moment and not have to stop and think about what comes next.

      For some more about my own process, personally, and how I arrived at this, you might check out some of my older posts, such as:
      Writing Process: The Project Bible – Discovering my Process
      The Maker’s Art (A series on the concept of “Mythopoeia” in three parts) Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

      You might find a lot of interest about my process, and the way I think about story, in those posts.

  4. It sounds like things are really coming together! I’m sure an appropriate ending will present itself to you, though, sooner or later. 🙂

    I’ve made progress this week, but not necessarily all with editing. In fact, I’ve had to write in some new material because I apparently skipped ahead in one spot and never went back to fill it in, lol. So I wrote new stuff and have been trying to spiff it up, as well. Can’t really add that to my progress bar, since it didn’t exist before, but oh well.

    In the meantime, I started editing a chapter that’s a bit of a turning point in the story, during which plot-changing discoveries are made, so that’s kind of a boost to my morale at the moment. (Some parts, though they may be necessary, simply aren’t quite as exciting as others.)

    • For certain values of “coming together”, yes. 😉 I’m still a long way off. It sounds like you’re making good progress, though. You know, one common bit of advice that I’ve seen is that a bit of writing in your story needs to be doing double-duty to be truly necessary… in the sense that it is fulfilling at least two of several possible goals: advance the story/plot, reveal character, increase tension, or be beautiful to read, stuff like that. So you can make some parts that aren’t terribly exciting more interesting to read by making sure it does something else important, too, besides just advance the plot. I must admit, though, that I’ve never actively used this approach by going through my story bit-by-bit to make sure that each part does two or three things.

      • I’m dubious about the two-things rule (though I admit I’m dubious about all writing rules but one), but I think it might be more applicable to short stories than to novels. Novels sometimes have some wonderful dogressions. In some novels, it’s not even possible to tell what’s advancing the plot until it’s over. And in some of Pynchon’s novels, for example, there are tons of digressions and it’s difficult to tell what “the plot” actually is. (Of course, much as I enjoy his books, I never try to do what he does.)

      • Yeah, almost every writing “rule” is conceivably flexible. The only thing I strive for, on a regular basis with what I write, is to be interesting. If the reader is bored – and that’s hard to gauge, believe-you-me – then something is wrong that needs to be fixed. Even that rule is flexible, though, because it depends on the reader. On “Story of G” I was getting great feedback from a number of readers – but then I had one reader who couldn’t even finish it, because they were so bored. It’s possible the readers who expressed their positive opinions of “Story of G” were pulling my leg or fibbing… and that the story is actually boring. But I think it’s more likely that those readers were connecting in the way I intended and the one who grew bored was possibly the wrong audience: their experiences didn’t mesh well with the idea of the story. No story is perfect for everyone (though it does worry me that I so thoroughly lost one reader; I didn’t even know how to address their issues with the story). So yeah… few if any writing rules are truly rigid.

    • Tiyana:
      Huzzah for exciting turning points! They really do wonders for gaining one’s second wind… and third wind… and eighth wind… (Novels can take a lot of wind to write.)
      Glad you caught that plot hole. The later in the game it’s found, the more of a pain it’s likely to be to rectify.

      At least two goals per segment, eh? I’ve never actively checked on that, either (perhaps I ought to begin…) — although if not even *one* point is getting hit, I’d like to think I notice there’s a problem!

      • Yeah, I haven’t either – I kind of just hope that what I’m writing is interesting… and hope that I’m ruthless when I find material that’s not doing anything for the story. On the “Story of G” that I recently finished, I took out some material that I thought was cool because it wasn’t doing anything. (On the other hand, I added much more than I took out, and I didn’t really verify that the stuff I added was crucial on the two-goals measure, but it was definitely important in advancing the plot.)

  5. I agree with Theresa, even a placeholder ending can be useful.

    Truman Capote said that he always wrote the last chapter first, so he’d know where he was going. (Of course, he said that in reference to a book he never finished writing, so it’s probably not a good example…)

    My week was so-so, but yesterday was really good. I got my book-in-progress down to ~300 pages from ~400, and now it’s lot more solid, too. Negative word count, but in a postiive direction.

    • Hey, in writing, sometimes backwards is forewards! As for my own ending… I’m not at a point yet where I’m writing the novel itself… when I get to the end of the oultine, I’ll have at least a placeholder ending of some kind. I’ve already got two options in my head, but I’m holding out for a third that is more ideal than either I’m currently considering.

  6. Pingback: On Productivity « The Undiscovered Author

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