So, that story I just finished is definitely one of the reasons why writers sometimes dole out the little gem that, if you can do anything else, do that instead.
I’d love to blame the endless string of shit that’s been piled down through January and into February (long, tiring story) and that I only managed to climb out of in March, but in reality it’s also just the writing process. The sad reality that sometimes, the inspiration doesn’t last, what you’ve written down isn’t enough to keep you energized through the whole thing, and all you’re left with is the notes and a hope that when you’ve put it all together and written it out, you’ll have something people want to read. Right now that’s a fainter hope than I’d like to run with. Which means it’s going to be a long, painful editing process. And no one likes that either.
By contrast there’s two other things I’m working on that are flying out of my fingertips, and not only are they easy, I’d judge that they’re actually pretty good. I’ve got the rhythm of it, I’m managing to get words on paper at a pretty good clip. Well, on screen. And I’m stringing words together in a way that’s not repetitive, that’s true to the setting and the characters, and that seems at least to be engaging enough to keep going. It’s a good sign when you’re interested enough in your own book to keep reading it and writing!
This doesn’t, by the way, have anything to do with fleshing out the world or the characters. In fact out of the three stories, the one I’ve been struggling with is at least as detailed if not more so than one of the two that’s chugging right along. If I knew what this endless mental morass and slog did have to do with, well, for one thing I wouldn’t be slogging through any of my stories anymore. I don’t think anyone does know. It’s just One Of Those Things.
This is the part where discipline comes in. This is why, whenever anyone asks for advice on how to write or finish a thing, my first advice is always, get your ass in that chair and write yourself into a routine. The only way to know, ultimately, if you’ve got a winner or a jumbled mess in your hands is to finish it, go back, look at it, and try and bash it into some sort of shape. Sometimes you do that and look back and it isn’t worth the struggle. Believe me, there are works I’ve drafted that I wish I’d abandoned halfway through. Sometimes, I had this happen to me recently, sometimes you get half or three quarters of the way through and it’s been a hell of a slog through the mud and the suck, and all you want to do is give up. And then everything falls into place, not just because you’re close to the end but because suddenly you know exactly why she did that, you know why he’s being an asshole, you know everything and you can’t get it onto the page fast enough. Sure, you have to rewrite the first 30-50 thousand words, but who cares? You’re on fire! Sometimes that moment happens in rewrites. Or on the third draft (had that happen recently, too), and sometimes it never happens, you finish the damn thing, put it out there, and fifty people swarm all over it claiming it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. That’s another thing you should do, if you have something but you’re not sure about it, show it to a few other people and see how they feel. I can’t tell you how many authors go “Huh, they picked the one I was least excited about.”
People, man. You can’t predict what they’ll like, you just have to do the best you can, put it out there, and hope they enjoy it.
But this is why I stress discipline as a part of writing for serious hobbyists, career writers, what have you. This is why people say, god, why would you want to be a writer. Do something else. You don’t even have the benefit of tangible improvement the way you do if you’re a craftsperson or an animal trainer or an underwater basketweaver. You can’t look at a line of baskets and say, yeah, the first few sucked, but that last one, man, look at that work of art! After a while you get the mechanical details of the craft down but that doesn’t insure you against screwing up epic-time in one of the big details down the line. Or just writing something that never, ever finds its audience.
The thing I do know, though, is that you will never find any of that out if you don’t at least get a few first drafts you, even if you hate them. Even if you look at the editing process and think “oh god I would rather do my taxes than deal with that” (go on guess what I did the morning I wrote the first draft of this). You don’t have to finish all of the drafts, that’s a pernicious lie that even I tell sometimes, you can’t edit what isn’t there but sometimes, yes, it is better just to put it down, say ‘screw you, story’, and walk the fuck away. And sometimes you have to push through it, and push through it, and keep pushing, and use that discipline to the fullest. And only you can make that judgment call.