Done Like Dinner: 5 Theories On When A Story Is Finished

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These pretzels know the end is coming.

1. When you reach the end. The problem, of course, is that you don’t know which end. The end of the zero draft? That might not make sense after edits. The end of the second draft? But what about the next round? The end of the edits? Hahaha, just kidding, edits never end.

2. When you can’t stand to look at it any more. This is when I usually send things to beta readers. So, an ending of sorts, but I wouldn’t call it done. Not with the comments that usually come back.

3. When you’re happy with it. This would be great…if there was ever a writer who was completely, one thousand percent satisfied with something they’d written. I’m not sure such a person exists outside the tales of old. Show me this unicorn so that I may ask their secrets.

4. When it’s published. This, once, was the final end. Once it’s published, you can’t change it any more. Or you shouldn’t; Pamela gets weirder and weirder with each version. But now, through the miracle of ebooks, publishers can change books after the reader buys them. Which I’m pretty sure is the opening of 1984.

5. When you have to do something else. This is my preferred level of doneness: when I could change stuff, but, really, I’d rather be working on a different project. Those sequels aren’t going to write themselves. Or that short story. Or that completely different novel.

How about you? When do you consider a story done?

14 Steps To Planning For That Big Writing Project.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest

Better fuel up.

1. Figure out how long it is. Or should be. Or will be.

2. Figure out how many words you can write/edit/extrude/divine in a day without completely losing your shit.

3. Berate yourself for not being able to get as many words done as a famous person/another writer/some imaginary version of yourself.

4. Drink.

5. Get a calculator. Or your phone. They’re the same thing.

6. Divide the number of words needed by the number of words per day OH GOD I’M ASKING YOU TO DO MATH THIS IS WHY YOU TOOK UP WRITING YOU HATE MATH.

7. Figure out how many days a week you can devote to this project. Don’t forget to include other obligations, including but not limited to: jobs, families, pets, exercise, sleep, world domination, reading, taxonomical classification of nose hairs, and banned genetic experimentation on the ants in your backyard.

8. Divide days needed by days per week. This is your number of weeks.

9. Add, like, ten percent to that number, because shit happens.

10. Add on an extra week to account for the time in the middle when you’ll realize you made a mistake four chapters ago and now have to fix everything.

11. Examine the resulting timeline. Don’t forget to include any scheduled vacations.

12. Realize you’ll be done shortly after Christmas. Christmas, 2035.

13. Drink again.

14. Start.

Writing Technique Deathmatch: Fix Now VS Fix Later

For Steph-174 (1)

Your next opponent is this peacock, because peacocks are assholes.

Time for the ultimate editing showdown: fix your plot holes and story problems as you go, or wait for the end and go back? It’s head-to-head time for these two competitors, so let’s ring the bell and get in there!

*DING*

Fix That Shit Now

Pros:

-Less of a nagging sense of doom hanging over the project.

-Can fix the problem while it’s fresh in the mind.

-Nothing to pile up on the MS to-do list, turning it into an impassible quagmire of shit.

Cons:

-Might realize the fix was another mistake, leading to another fix.

-Endless reiteration through the same five chapters of the manuscript can lead to overclocking your brain and having it melt all over your desk.

-Possibility of never finishing the goddamned thing.

Fix That Shit Later

Pros:

-Can concentrate more on what’s happening right now in your story.

-Fixing things while in editing mode is easier than trying to fix them in cracked-out-zero-draft mode, because you are marginally less of a lunatic.

-FINISHING. Oh god, finishing, sweet sweet finishing.

-The world might end, rendering the problem moot.

Cons:

-Might forget what the fix is supposed to be.

-Hard to reference early events if they’re different but you haven’t written them yet.

-Makes actual finish date seem like three days past never, possibly leading to giving up writing altogether and starting your own goat-weaving collective.

Final Verdict:

Edit later on zero drafts and anything else where you’ve got to dump out your brain contents before your sort them; edit now for second drafts, editing passes, and other, more difficult, story wrangling.

I HAVE SPOKEN.

*DING DING DING*

10 Things I’ve Learned In A Decade Of Creative Work

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This wine is for medicinal purposes after realizing how long I’ve been writing.

Writing Tuesday’s post made me do some math, and the result of that was: it has been almost ten years since I completed my first manuscript.

The actual decade mark will come sometime early next year, but it’s close enough. I remember it quite well, because in the spring of 2006 I was finishing up my master’s thesis and wondering how I would fill a year before going into PhD work.

Eight months later I burned all my PhD applications and watched the ashes flutter away in the January wind.

Since then I have not had a ‘real’ job. I’ve worked temporary part-time stuff, but nothing that you can tell people when they turn to you at a party and ask the dreaded question: “And what do you do?” I’ve been writing.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last almost-decade:

1. There is no validation. Do not expect the easy win. In some ways, doing this is worse than a day job, because at least there someone can tell you if you’re doing it right. Artists are all pitching words or images or songs into the void and hoping something comes back. It is not for the faint of heart.

2. This is a long con. Be prepared for the long haul. This road runs into the desert, and there’s no proof it ever comes out again. Take water and sunscreen and a machete, because you’re going to be out there a while.

3. People don’t get it. Maybe art is something they don’t understand or something they wish they had done or something they feel is morally wrong, but, man, a lot of people do not fucking get it. Tell them you’re an artist and if you’re lucky you’ll get a blank stare. If you’re not…

4. It makes some people angry. On the upside, these people usually act like complete assholes, so you can safely ignore them while they flail around with their judgmental snark and passive-aggressive comments. It’s about them, not you.

5. Even work you love can be hard. There will be days when you want to punch yourself in the brain to make all the words fall out.

6. If it takes more than it gives, then you’re probably in the wrong job. All jobs take, and creative jobs are no exception. The only difference is what they take. In my case, writing has taken my time, my mental energy, my personal financial security, my independence, my other ambitions. It gives me joy, entertainment, freedom, and purpose. If you’re not getting more than you’re sacrificing, according to your own idiosyncratic math, then you’re doing the wrong thing. Actually, I guess that applies to all jobs.

7. You’ll work harder at this than any other job you’ve ever had. A couple of years back I had to put myself on a regular schedule, because I was spending almost eighty hours a week working on writing and was on the verge of burning out altogether. Even now, I work about fifty. That includes writing, outlining, editing, researching markets, sending out submissions…there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into producing art. And you usually don’t get paid for it. Be prepared for that.

8. It makes you a different person. Not a better person, note. Just different. I am not the same person I would have been if I had gone on to do my PhD. Or gone into teaching. Or done anything else. I look at the world in different ways. Sometimes they’re good ways. Sometimes I’m mining personal tragedy for story fodder.

9. You’ll want to quit. At least once. More likely thousands of times. Sometimes all in one day.

10. There is no rush like creation. When everything’s clicking over just right and all your hard work is coming together, you’ll fly. And you’ll never want to come back down.

Recycling From The Fail Pile

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Not Pictured: That Manuscript. This is a completely different one.

I wrote a scene for a book ten years ago.

Shit. Writing that sentence was the first time I stopped to do that particular math. Fuck. That was longer ago than I thought.

Anyway, this was my first finished book. It sucked. I mean, it’s not spectacularly bad– it doesn’t physically hurt me to read it, like some of my earlier, unfinished stories–but it still sucks. It will remain in cold storage indefinitely, or until the sun explodes and burns us all to a crisp.

But there was this one scene. I liked it. I still like it. Not the way it was written, because, dude, I was just starting out then. I had spent the previous six years writing academic papers. My fiction writing was not great, to say the least. I could over-explain like a boss, though.

But I liked the idea behind this scene. It’s one of the only parts I remember really clearly from that first book, so it stuck with me, even after the rest has been mercifully flushed down the memory hole.

And over the weekend, I was doing the brain work on another story and I realized something.

I had written that scene for the wrong book.

The one it belonged in was the one I was working on now.

So what’s the moral of this tale? Well, it’s not never throw anything away, because some of the stuff you produce will be complete garbage and you should absolutely throw garbage away.

But some things don’t stay on the compost heap. They claw their way back. And those…those you should give a second look. Because it might be a case of right place, wrong time. Write place, wrong time, maybe, if I’m allowed a moment to be completely insufferable.

Old scenes, old characters, old plots can be reused, especially if you originally created them for something that never quite came together. Break it down for spares and use the parts that work.

And let the rest stay on the fail heap. For now.

On Bad Days

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Maybe this will soften the blow of the swears I’m about to drop.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a good story will have days where that story turns on them, rending the skin from their face and chewing on their entrails.*

Yesterday was that day.

Today? Jury’s still out. My entrails are still scattered on the hardwood and I’ve yet to try reading the future in them.

This is the point where I suppose I should write something inspiring about how bad days make better writers, about the Artist’s Fight, about how even James Joyce struggled. Except fuck James Joyce.

Or I could do a list. People love lists. Seven Things To Do When Writing Sucks Harder Than A Closeted Varsity Athlete, maybe.

Except I don’t want to.

What I want to do is write. It is what gives my days purpose.

But I need to get this blog post done first. Not that I think any of you live and die by my words, but I made a commitment. And if there is one rule for writing, it is: finish.

So. Bad day yesterday. And if you’re here because you had a bad day, then I only have one thing to say.

So?

Bad days happen. You can spend your time navel-gazing about whether this means you don’t have it in you to be a writer, beating your breast about the difficulty, the unfairness, the grand sweeping suckitude¬†of it all.

Or you can get on with things.

Pick up your entrails, stuff them back in your body, and duct-tape everything together. Staple your face back on. Smile.

Because we’ve got work to do.

*I’d say “with apologies to Jane Austen”, but I’m not sorry. I might be an asshole, but I’m not going to add ‘liar’ on top of that.