In my last writing update, I talked about how much I was struggling to finish Chapter 6 (of 9) of my manuscript. Fortunately, writing that post and admitting how hard of a time I was having helped: I did finish Chapter 6 shortly after that. Unfortunately, I thought I could also finish Chapter 7 before this month’s update, but it just didn’t happen.
For each chapter, I have a 10k word goal. When I opened chapter 7 this time around, I was already at 10k words. But those were thousands of words I had written before spending the last 6 months honing chapters 1-6, so changes needed to be made. The main plot arcs will stand, but there are a lot of details I have to go back to check and brush up, and at this point my characters are stronger than when I originally wrote the events of this chapter so I have to make sure that they’re still themselves in chapter 7. I also added some transitional events to the beginning of the chapter to bridge the gap between 6 and 7. So I have been working, just not enough.
Part of the problem is just that I’ve been busier than I expected (again), but also that while I love writing and revising and editing, I always end up feeling stuck in whichever part of the cycle I’m in. (Does this happen to anyone else?) I thought that making the first chronological trek through my manuscript with a patchy partial draft already in place would be easier than starting at the beginning from scratch– with pieces of the book already done, I’m not always doing the same thing every time I get to a new chapter. Some chapters require more writing, but others are heavier on revision, and chapter 7 has been mostly editing. It’s nice, in a way, not to be stuck writing all 90k words in one go, and then doing all the revising and editing at once in additional drafts; this way, I’ll have a nearly complete draft by the time I’m finished with my first full draft. I’ve always operated that way, no matter what I’m writing. But I’ve never written anything this long that had to be a coherent, finished product by the time I reached the end; as I’m approaching that finish line, there are more pieces of the story to juggle, and I’m feeling more constricted. I miss the early days of this project when I let myself work on whichever part of the story I wanted to work on, in any order.
I’ve been really tempted lately to pause these chapters that I’ve been feeling bogged down with lately, to go through my list of small tweaks that I need to make in the early chapters. I’m a pantser with my writing, so when I started at the beginning of this draft I’d intentionally left the end open and I wasn’t entirely sure where the story would end up. Now that I have a clearer idea, I know there are little details I need to introduce earlier on, and I have a better idea of how to characterize my MCs from the beginning, in a way that’s more relevant to the overall plot. I feel like I could be more productive working on those aspects that are on my mind right now than pushing through chapter 7, where I’m just trying to make everything add up. Chapter 7 feels like the part of a jigsaw puzzle when all that’s left is the sky, all the pieces are same shade of blue, and some of them fit in multiple slots. But there’s only one solution to connect all of the pieces, and it takes a lot of trial and error and patience. I want a break from the sky pieces.
But that’s dangerous thinking. Letting myself “quit” chapter 7, no matter how temporarily, is how I kept getting off track in the first place, when I was working unchronologically. Instead of making forward progress, I would just keep editing the same “finished” sections over and over, and even though I am glad that everything I’ve “finished” at this point is as polished as it is, I’ve been working on this so long that I really need a complete draft before I go crazy and abandon the whole project. I will never quit writing… but I could see myself quitting this particular project in a moment of weakness. I don’t want that to happen. I am really happy with what I’ve got so far and where this project is going, and I want to get to the end and have a finished draft to show for the last 2 years of work I’ve put into it, but…. But. I don’t know.
I’ve been rambling through these updates lately. I think I’m just getting more stressed out. I’m juggling multiple perspectives in this narrative and as the main event is looming on the horizon, I’m also trying to weave all these characters together properly. I knew it was an ambitious project, and I’m immensely critical of my own work. I wanted to write something fun that would also challenge me, so even though ultimately I love this manuscript, I’m giving it 200% effort and it’s exhausting. This close to the end, there aren’t little surprises for me in the text anymore, it’s all going the only way it can possibly go because there’s so little left to happen. I know where it’s going now, and without the sense of mystery that I started out with, I’m less driven to transfer it onto paper.
And I suppose, as I’m nearning the end, I’m also getting distracted with the next steps. For months I’ve been so focused on just finishing this project, but I’m in the final third of the manuscript now, and even that final third is half-written and just needs brushing up. Within a couple of months, I’ll be writing query letters to potential agents. And that’s the part I’m most worried about in the entire publishing process. That’s the stage of the process that most makes me worry whether I will ever be published at all, whether anyone will ever read my work (I don’t think self-publishing is the route for me). It’s hard pushing that fear aside long enough to even reach that stage, but I’m trying.
So Chapter 7 is where I’m at. I’ve got over 11,700 words in the chapter right now, and I’m trying to edit it down a little bit. I’m not sure if there will end up being a scene or two I need to add towards the end, but even so I’m pretty confident I can get that number closer to 10k. It’s mostly editing left to do, cutting out what’s not necessary, rewording the sentences I can’t stand anymore, checking details. It really shouldn’t take more than a few days of hard work to get through it, if I just make myself keep going.
Looking ahead: I wanted to be finished with this whole first draft by the 29th of July, when I’m leaving for a little vacation. It seemed like the perfect time to put the whole thing out of my mind for a week and come back to it with fresh perspective to make all those small tweaks I’ve been making note of in the last couple of months. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. If I work really hard, I might be able to finish chapter 8 by that time, but we’ll see. I think I’ve already got about 5k words stored in chapter 8. If I can keep myself going, it might be possible to get through 7 and 8, and spend that week of vacation just gathering all my thoughts for chapter 9. I won’t be actively writing during that week, but I’ll probably still have the project in mind, especially if I’m not through to the end of the draft by that time. Hopefully I’ll come back to it more confident and excited than I have been this month, and ready to wrap it all up. I will be looking for an agent within the year. That’s scary, but also really exciting. The balance of those emotions varies day to day.
I know I’m all over the place right now, and I have no idea what my next update will look like. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep moving forward and making progress.
A little inspo for any other struggling writers out there:
“Once I thought that writing this book would be impossible. It was a skyscraper, massive and complete and unbearably far off. It taunted me from the horizon. But do we ever look at such buildings and assume they sprung up overnight? No. We’ve seen the traffic congestion that attends them. The skeleton of beams and girders. The swarm of builders and the rattle of cranes… Everything grand is made from a series of ugly little moments. Everything worthwhile by hours of self-doubt and days of drudgery. All the works by people you and I admire sit atop a foundation of failures. So whatever your project, whatever your struggle, whatever your dream, keep toiling, because the world needs your skyscraper.” -Pierce Brown (Morning Star)
What’s the hardest part of writing for you? Is there any part of the process that scares you?
The Literary Elephant