I finished writing a book last week, which should feel like a huge, milestone moment, except of course it’s not. I got to the end of the book, having written all the scenes I think should be in the book, and that’s a most excellent thing.
But it’s not finished, I know it’s not finished, and all the editing, tweaking and tidying I need to do to make it even pretend to be finished, is overwhelming me.
A lot of writers use word metrics to track their progress on a book. This is a lie. We know it’s a lie. We know that you can have a perfectly good, productive day on a book that leaves you with less words than you started with. And we know that you can write 3000 words that are going to need to be chopped out the following week.
But we keep using wordcount as a tracking system, because it can be tracked – it’s one of the few systems we can use to mark regular progress and that’s important, because without that momentum, it’s hard to get back regularly and get the damn thing finished.
Momentum is my friend. Lurching from Chapter 1 to Chapter 30, I need momentum desperately. It’s the only way (for me) to get through writing something as hefty as a novel. I’ve found that it takes me a few weeks of pretending I am the kind of writer who sits down and produces words every day, before something clicks and I actually am that writer.
And then the book gets done, as long as I don’t get some other massive energy-draining Thing like other-book-edits, or proofing, or my twice-annual day job, or school holidays, or, well, the whole month with Christmas in is a write off, right?
Yeah. Momentum killers, all of them. I almost fell to bits last year, trying to finish the third book in my trilogy, because every time I hit that beautiful 3-4 week flying momentum, something would land on my desk to be dealt with over a few weeks, and I’d have to start again. My head almost exploded by the end.
Editing is easy for me. I find it practically soothing next to the heart-in-stomach tension of getting the initial words written. It’s like the difference between buying milk from a shop, and milking the cow yourself. Or something.
What isn’t as easy for me is actually DOING the editing. Because as soon as the pressure of ‘write every day until October, then sleep’ is off, suddenly there are a million things to be done. All those things I have been putting off while I write my steady thousand words a day. The editing sits here, yawning prettily and saying things like “la, I’ll be a breeze, get around to me whenever.”
Don’t your writing processes talk to you?
Editing can’t be measured. You can’t look at it and say ‘well, that’s done’. It’s like health and education budgets – which can suck up any amount of funds and put them to practical use. Editing a novel goes and goes and goes until you run out of resources, whether that means time, energy or the ability to see the computer screen without screaming.
It’s hard to keep yourself honest when you’re editing your own book. Do you work chronologically, or scattershot? Do you make lists? Can anyone else see it yet, or is it too raw? Do all the characters accidentally have names starting with the same letter?
Pressure is important, to me. If I don’t have actual deadlines (which mostly these days, I do) then I have to create fake ones, to raise appropriate levels of dread and fear that the adrenalin kicks in. This always reminds me of my favourite character in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series (Part the Second), Lintilla, who liked to add handicaps to her life to make it more exciting (and thus efficient), because who can get anything done if you don’t have a broken arm and killer robots out to get you?
I can think of plenty of people who will be relieved that the writing of my book is done. In the last month of writing a novel, I blog like a maniac, send crazy ideas to all my friends, and over-commit myself to every project going. Those are basically my killer robots, chasing me to ensure that I run faster, and get more done. And yes, I set them on myself.
All of which is a very long winded way of saying that I wrote this post instead of editing my novel. My novel is pretending not to care. My to-read pile is suggesting that if I need to procrastinate, I should head on over there.
I have no words to count, and no killer robots coming after me. This could get tricky.