Something occurred to me a few days back that may not be news to anybody else, but it’s what got me on my current roll Six days, six chapters, better than twelve thousand words. Somebody stop me before I melt my keyboard. And I still have a day job – I’m spending maybe two, three hours a day on the book.
Up until the end of last year, I’ve never written a flash fiction thing or a short story of any kind. I’ve knocked out a few now, four or five flashes and one actual short coming soon to a CrimeFactory near you. Here’s what I noticed about those – how easy they seem. I mean the finish line was right there – a few thousand words away at best. Still have to come up with an idea, but if you’re like me, you’ve always got a few of those rattling around. So with the shorts, I’d sit down, knock ‘em out in a couple hours, the first draft, anyway. (I think the CrimeFactory story actually took most of a morning. One flash fiction piece I wrote on the train ride home – fifty five minutes.) Sure, you got the futzing and editing and what not, but a draft was a thing you could do in a sitting.
With the novels, on the other hand, the finish line is so far away as to feel almost abstract. And so, whenever I sat down to work on the novel, I guess I always figured I had to pace myself. It’s a marathon, right? Can’t take off at a sprint.
I’d ruminate. Write a few sentences. Contemplate them. Check my word count. Ohhhhhhh. Another hundred words. Go back and delete those or fiddle with them. Think about how far off the end felt. Go eat something to sustain myself for the journey. Google something I might use two chapters later. In short, pretty much do anything but write. And the novel would creep on in this petty pace until the last recorded syllable of the day. And I’d be up maybe 500 words.
A week ago, I could feel myself bogging down. I even blogged about it. I was worried the WIP was going off track, maybe. I started fretting what was going to happen next, and after that, and after that, and – my God, you know how many after thats you need to get out to 75-100K words?
So what happened? I’ll tell you. In an effort to get my momentum back, I lied to myself. I told myself, “Self, we aren’t writing a chapter for the WIP today, we’re writing a flash fiction piece featuring the characters in the WIP. Here’s where they are. Give me 1000 words on what they do next. Don’t worry about how it fits the plot or any other damn thing – just give me that story, the story of the next thousand words.” So I knocked that right out, maybe an hour and a half. Bang. Chapter done.
And then it occurred to me, chapters are kind of like little stories – and novels are really just, I dunno, fifty to a hundred flash fiction pieces featuring the same people all strung together. By approaching each chapter more like a stand-alone story and less like another brick in the wall, I’m finding I’m putting a little more tension into them – they have endings all their own. So all I gotta do is sit down each day and write me a flash fiction piece and in a couple of months, I’ll have the draft of a novel.
This bit of self delusion has been working for a week solid. I’ve never been a planner/outliner to begin with, doesn’t work for me. (See The Winchester Mansion School of Writing.) What I’m trying to do now is give up thinking pretty much altogether. Thinking, that is, about anything except the scene I am writing. I’m not thinking about how far I am from the end of the book. I’m not thinking about what happens in the next chapter. I am trying to live in the moment with my characters and the messes that they have gotten themselves into. That’s it. So for six straight days, I’ve sat down, decided which of the passel of imaginary folk I’m messing with is up to bat, asked myself, “What would I do for the next thousand words if I were that guy?” and just cut lose.
And guess what? The plot, all that shit I used to worry about? It’s all taking care of itself.
Maybe this won’t work forever – hard to imagine that I can keep up this pace for the rest of my life. But maybe it will. And I’ve moved the ball from my own ten about to about the forty in less than a week.
So, if you’re bogged down, give it a try. All you got to lose is your next thousand words.