Nose Almost to the Grindstone

Very few motivational gimmicks work for me. Money? Nope. Shame? I don’t even know what that is. Setting word counts? Fuhgeddaboutit. I’ve been trying to finish the first draft of Camp Expendable ever since NaNoWriMo was over, last November. There’s something about novel endings that puts up some kind of barrier in my mind. That’s probably because I don’t write the kind of books that gradually lead up to a single possible ending. Instead, my main protags hem and haw their way through life, and when presented with the opportunity to make a choice between several options, they freeze up and refuse to budge.

So it is with Expendable. As a result, most of the book has been through several drafts, while I’m still trying to write the last chapter. At least no one can say I haven’t been working on it. I knew in advance that the ending would be a problem, so, motivationally desperate, I started posting it on Write On, even before NaNo ended. That didn’t go badly — until I reached the last two chapters. The next-to-last chapter got posted after a delay of only about two weeks. The last chapter is still hanging. And so are my readers.

I buckled down to work yesterday, determined to finish the darned thing. I even thought, momentarily, about not letting myself go to bed until it was finished. A moment of madness that I rejected right away. I did manage to write about 600 words, and I went to bed at my usual time. It’s up to 2,700 words now, and there’s no good (justifiable) reason why I can’t bang out the rest today. And I will try. I know exactly how it ends. That isn’t the problem. It’s the words. I can’t find the right words. Sure, I can tell myself that I don’t have to get the words right the first time. I’ve slowly, painfully, learned to keep that in mind during NaNo. For some reason, it doesn’t carry over. I think it’s the perfectionist in me. It hasn’t died yet, and insists on getting its licks in however and wherever it can.

Today is the day. Get the thing finished, come hell or high water. Right after I wash my hair.

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10 thoughts on “Nose Almost to the Grindstone

  1. I know that feeling––I often get stuck on certain scenes because I feel like I just don’t have the right words to convey what I want to say/show. But as you said, I try to tell myself that it doesn’t have to be absolutely right the first time. Good luck with finishing your draft, you can do it!

  2. I like your mind – but our writing styles ARE so different: I know exactly where my stories are going, and can’t wait to get to writing that last chapter, regardless of how long it takes me to do it.

    The whole point of my stories is that last chapter: how do I get there? Where do I start from? How do I make it believable and intelligible to a reader? Once I have the beginning and the end, the piece in between has to be like a firehose connecting the two and bucking like mad.

    Without knowing where I’m going, I couldn’t write. It takes so much of ME, of my little bit of good time, of my whole life, to write, that I can’t afford not to have everything count. Even though I discard 10, 100 words for every one that I keep, those were written to find exactly the right expression for the ideas I’ve had since the beginning.

    It’s like the difference between designing an alternative world to write stories in – and an alternative world I’ll have to live the rest of my life in. Stakes. The first is bloodless, the second life and death.

    Is this the way to write? Who cares? It’s my way. But I like my results: there will be three volumes next to my bed in the nursing home, and someone will read it to me, a little at a time, every day. When we finish, they will go back to the beginning and start again.

    Of course, once I finish this trilogy, I will move on to lots more stories. And I hope the nursing home is a long way into the future. But for now that image is what keeps me moving: I’m writing the story for myself. Then sharing. Because it was ALSO always designed to be shared – otherwise why bother to write it down, and to try to write it well?

    Each of us has our motivation, our unfulfilled hole-in-the-soul. Without that, I can’t see how you would go through all the pain. Writing is a choice.

    1. It’s great that writers have so many different ways of functioning. My way is pretty messy, but I’m not sure I could work any other way. I usually know where the story is going, in a general way, but not what side paths it might take on the way, or how many choices the protagonist will have to choose from at the end. This is a good topic for a blog post, so I may explore it tomorrow. And give you credit for the idea, of course. You hit a nerve that’s making me look into it more deeply, and thinking about whether I tend to favor a predefined ending or an open-ended approach.

      As for the nursing home, that’s my worst nightmare. Hopefully, I will have a choice at the end and will choose my own way of going out.

      1. I can see how not picking an ending works for some books and some stories – you’ll find out as you go (if you’re lucky and don’t spend 200K words wandering). I think some good first person detective stories work like that – I always think of Sue Grafton’s STORIES (I have no idea what her construction method is).

        If you get too far off the track, you may lose the ending you thought you were aiming for, not necessarily a bad thing. But if you get to the ‘right’ ending, you may have a lot of cleanup to do because of pruning side plots and such. I don’t have the stomach for that. I have a hard enough time with a tightly-controlled plan. Freedom would have me writing soap operas.

  3. So far, I’ve only gotten completely off the track one time. But I think of it more as the book becoming something different than I’d originally planned. Normally, all paths lead to back to the original road. I think what they do is provide the unexpected alternate choices that the protag has to choose from. Your comments are giving me a lot to think about. For one, it seems that I work mostly by intuition, because I don’t think I’ve ever considered ahead of time how a story will be structured. It’s almost like I’m stalking the main characters and watching what happens to them as they move through their lives. Who they encounter, how they interact, what’s motivating them, etc. I recognize that could prove to be a weakness sooner or later.

    Wordwise, it isn’t a problem because my first drafts are always underwritten, and I have to put flesh on the bones. Last year’s NaNo novel came only to 53,000 words. It’s at 60,000 now, and will probably finish up between 60 and 63,000.

  4. Good luck with it. I think last chapters are the very devil to write, and are almost always accompanied by a sense of letdown – if that’s the right word. I have no words of wisdom, but only wish to say that struggling-on-somehow is, in the end, the only thing to do. Sometimes, reminding oneself of the book’s overall theme/message can prove helpful.

    1. I think you’re right about the letdown. Maybe it’s just being tired after so much work, and still having that bit to struggle with. But I’m making progress.

    2. I like writing the last chapters – because I know exactly where I’m going – ‘reminding oneself of the book’s overall theme/message can prove helpful’ – and I get into the characters’ mindsets one more time.

      I had someone tell me my last chapter was the best one – and that was great to hear. Nothing’s perfect, but if they like the last one, and tell you they’re waiting for Book 2, it gives you an incentive to keep working.

      Everyone writes differently – my method works for me, but I wouldn’t necessarily suggest using it to a new writer. Too tortuous. But because it is so organized, it helps me cope with brain fog, and still tell a coherent story (I think).

      1. I wouldn’t recommend my method, either. Because it’s so *dis*organized. Last chapters are critical. That’s what the reader leaves with and decides whether the book was satisfying. So my agonies are worth it. I hope.

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