I looked at numbers today, for the first time since Sunday. My document total is up to 42,000, which means I’ve put in about 20,000 new words this month (and actually probably more than that, since I’ve overwritten some of the original 22,000 that were notes or brief scene snippets, and somewhere along the line I just stopped keeping track of how many words I was deleting). I might still be able to pull out a total of 50K new words this month, though at this point the odds of that are dropping exponentially with each passing day, a likelihood heightened by the demotivating realization that those 50,000 words are not going to be enough to finish the story at the current narrative pace…not nearly. My forward progress is up to 30,000, making this the longest story I’ve written yet*. I am about 2/5 of the way through my outline, which means my original projection of a 60,000 word novel was short by about 15,000 words.
This comparison of word count progress to actual outline progress is a little bit disheartening, because I would really like to “cross the finish line” as it were and actually be, you know, finished. Instead the goal of 50K in a month has become an arbitrary number. An impressive statistic, sure, and inspiring in the sense that it is a huge leap forward and a proof of my ability to grind out words on a longer story than I have yet written*…but ultimately it will not represent finishing this story, only making a really good start on it. And yes, yes, well begun is half-done and all that, but I’m a bit disappointed. And anxious, because I know so much of what I’ve written is not, well, good. I mean, the words aren’t bad, and probably the stringing of them together isn’t bad, but…it’s not that good, either. It’s not the best that I can do. I am going to have to revise the hell out of this book to get it into publishable shape. Basically, this time out, I’m having to write out the story in order to figure out what I even want to say for most of it.
Stop laughing. All of you who normally write this way and are wondering “and this comes as a distressing surprise because…?” can just stop laughing, right now. This situation is a first for me. The other stories I’ve written have not required extensive revision. I don’t just think this is a difference between how I view my writing now versus how I viewed it six months ago, or in the case of some of my first short stories, a year ago. Because I recently re-read one of the shorts (for fun) and then a few scenes from my Twelfth Night novellas (for some quick fact-checking), and I did not find myself revising any of it as I went. So whatever changes my writer goggles have undergone in the last year have not been so significant that they have changed my perception of my own work.
I think it’s more that a novel is simply too big to hold in my mind. My Twelfth Night novellas were both small stories–one night, and one story. The only plot threads that could have been secondary to the main one all fed into the main plot of the other story. Those pieces were easy to keep track of, easy to sort of get a bird’s eye view on and keep everything paced evenly and full of emotional punch.
But with a full novel? A story that has several different tensions running through it and influencing the characters’ perspectives and choices, a story that takes place over the course of a couple months and involves significantly more than simply the hero and heroine figuring out their own hearts? If I back up far enough to get a bird’s eye view of the whole, I completely lose any sense of the details at all. It’s just too much to hold in my head. And so I have to get it down, have all of it laid out in front of me, to even begin to figure out how I need to relate the different elements to one another, and where I’m getting way too caught up in the trivial details and where those minutiae actually matter. It’s just…hard, to realize that I’m going to have to raze entire scenes and possibly sections from the ground up…to take the words that I extracted on a forced death march across the wastelands of Uninspiredium and write over them with new words that say the same thing, only better.
I know in the end the revision will be worth it, because I will have not just a story I am happy with but rather a book that I am happy with. I know that in order to be able to rewrite any of it I have to first write all of it, even badly. I know that I can do it, and I will do it, and I want to do it.
I’m just…feeling a little bit sorry for myself because realizing that even if I hit the one goal (NaNoWriMo completion) it will not be the MAIN goal (finishing the rough draft of the book), when there will be still so much work after I get that first big goal, is a tough pill to swallow.
Ah, well. As a kinky romance writer I should be good at swallowing things, amIright? (No! Bad Lily. Dirty jokes are not appropriate behavior for a lady!)
I know I’m being hard on myself. But I get to be hard on myself! I am writer, editor, art director, designer, publisher, publicist, and consumer, all rolled into one. Cutting slack is not an option, because any slack that I cut one of those roles is work one of the others has to pick up. I take a great deal of pride in doing work well, so this whole “fix it later” mentality of pounding out a first draft is hard enough for me to deal with. I get to be disappointed for one night this month that even finishing the goal isn’t actually going to be finishing. I get to feel exhausted by the thought of how much farther there is to go even after coming all this long way.
In a strange, perverse way, I think I’m actually even glad that this is hard for me. Too many things that I have tried to do in my life have come easily to me, and then I couldn’t really feel proud of myself for doing them (even when other people told me I should), because it was easy, so what was there to be proud about? So, I’m glad this is hard. That way, when–and it is not in question that it will be when–I finish, I can feel an honest pride in accomplishing both what I set out to do and the work I created.
*Barring a novel-length piece of fanfiction and all the abandoned drafts of my college summers and the tragically terrible semi-autobiographical novel I wrote when I was fifteen. For purposes of this post and my current myopic self-pity, the longest thing I’ve written that I have any intention of ever showing anyone.
Also, this was hilarious. These were the key words WordPress pulled from this post as suggestions for additional tags: impressive statistic, forward progress, arbitrary number, finish line, and exponentially.
In light of what the post was actually about, all I can say is: bahahahahaha!