There’s a school of thought which states: “Nothing good comes easy.”
Part of me thinks: “No shit Sherlock.”
Another part, the one pacing back and forth scratching its head, asks: “Yeah but how do you know it’s good even after doing the hard part? And how hard should it be in order for it to be good? More to the point how do you measure hard? Is there some sort of scale I haven’t been told about?”
I understand that in order to feel a sense of achievement there should be a combination of effort and time. But how much time? How much effort? Do you keep going until you pass out from exhaustion and hope that someone wanders by and says: “Yup, that’ll do it” and leaves a tasty slice of Achievement Pie beside your twitching body?
Here’s the thing…
I’m currently working on the seventh draft of my novel, The Range. I call it the seventh due to the evolution of the story from a single idea, 40,000 words, to its current state of 125,000 words. I have seven different versions but in truth only three of those are completed works.
I enjoy editing. Sort of. It’s a chance to cut out the crap, chisel away and refine things. After leaving the story alone for a few months, I’ve had time to reflect on what was wrong. Well, not wrong as such, more like something was missing.
So now I’m working my way through, fleshing out scenes, cutting others, clarifying some, touching up dialogue and also adding necessary extra chapters in order to validate and support events that happen later in the book.
The image below has nothing to do with this post, but I thought it captured the essence of writing, reflection and imagination.
The Achievement Game is like Snakes and Ladders.
When I finished draft six I was pretty chuffed with myself. I sat back in my chair, put my hands behind my head and mentally added “The End” at the bottom of the page. I don’t like to see that actually in print but it’s nice to be able to say it inside my head.
After climbing the ladders, slipping down a few snakes in the process, I’d finally reached the top and took a well deserved bite of Achievement Pie. It tasted good by the way, cream and strawberry filling in a light pastry dusted with sugar and a hint of lemon, or cinnamon, or maybe ginger. Whatever goes with strawberries and cream.
That pie was back in December 2012. It’s all stinky and gross now. And suddenly out of reach. Someone snatched the ladders away when I wasn’t looking. Now I’m staring up and those very long ladders and incredibly hungry snakes, thinking: “Holy shit, that’s a long climb. It didn’t look that long last time. And Jesus, those snakes look pissed off.”
That stuff doesn’t exactly put me off. Some buzzword fanatic once said: “There are no problems, only challenges.” Okay, right, so the challenge here is to drag myself up all those ladders again and avoid as many snakes as possible in the process. Ho-hum, better get climbing. Nothing good comes easy, so they say.
The problem is that sometimes a snake is right at the top of a ladder and that slippery bastard is about to eat my Achievement Pie.
Still with me on the board game metaphors?
I’ve been editing for the last few weeks. Not constantly you understand. And sometimes the Lazy Fairy forces me in front of the telly box. She’s an evil bitch but nowhere near as bad as the Procrastination Elf that comes in the form of Facebook, YouTube and every other life sucking aspect of the internet.
Last week I set myself the task of writing two new chapters for The Range. I used to be something of a pantser writer (that’s where you write by the seat of your pants, hold on and don’t look back) and I’d start out with what I thought was a pretty good direction, with only a vague idea of where I wanted to go, and end up somewhere else.
I’m not entirely sure how the above graphic works in conjunction with the snakes and ladders metaphor but hopefully you get the idea.
These days I use a combination of Pantser Writing and Planned Writing – I know where I’m starting a scene/chapter from, which points I want to hit along the way and where I want to end up, and because I enjoy the Pantsing I leave a few things unmapped. I like to let my characters loose and see what happens. Controlled chaos you could say.
On a side note I like how the snakes and ladders board game is still being sold in a world that seems fixated with touching stuff on a screen.
Now I’m tempted to see if there’s a snakes and ladders app for my phone.
Nah, it’ll probably have in-game purchases and that stuff pisses me off.
The new chapters, Dave, remember?
By Friday I caught a sniff of the Achievement Pie, or maybe of one of those tiny “try-before-you-buy” slices you get at the deli-counter in the supermarket. One chapter down, one ladder climbed. If that makes any sense.
That leaves one chapter to write so I can reach my goal for the week. Considering I had all weekend I figured that would be child’s play.
I started the second new chapter just after lunch today.
Actually, I reviewed the last few pages of the other chapter first, made a few changes and then started the new chapter.
By the time I started writing this post, about an hour ago, I’d written nine pages. NINE! That’s all I managed in around nine hours.
One page per hour. 2,764 words in total.
I wrote and rewrote. Edited. Cut entire chunks of dialogue. Changed things around, added bits, copied, pasted, changed who said what, who did what, and when, and why, and how.
Every so often I’d push my chair back, stare at the screen, sigh, wheel my chair back in and carry on.
In fact I was so exasperated that one of my main characters, Garf, a nerdy young lad, tired from fiddling with electronic gadgets all day, was doing the exact same thing as me!
I’d subconsciously made him push his own chair away from his desk, sigh and scratch his head, then wheel himself back and carry on fixing the radios and junk on his desk.
I was as exhausted as Garf!
Is nine pages worthy of beating the “Nothing good comes easy” rule?
It sure doesn’t feel that way. Nine hours slaving over words feels like hard work. Time + Effort = Achievement Pie, right?
I’ve just read through them, out loud. They flow nicely and make sense. I’m happy with the direction the chapter is going too. But it’s been hard work getting there.
I think the problem lies with adding new content to an existing story, time and plot. I need these chapters. They’re important for character development and plot structure. Without them events later on won’t make as much sense or have as much impact.
I haven’t even finished the current scene.
It’s left hanging there like a child waiting for its mum to say: “Yes Jimmy, you can have a cookie.”
Part of me wants and needs to keep going, to finish that scene so I can have closure by reaching the top of that ladder, thus being one step closer to the Achievement Pie.
However, whilst trawling mindlessly through Facebook the other day, I came across one of those insightful and slightly witty inspirational images lots of people enjoy creating for no reason.
Well, I figure there is one reason; to feel a sense of smug satisfaction that comes from placing a famous quote over images that sort of matches the content so other people can go: “Ooh that’s interesting and so true. Oh I must share this with everyone else on the freaking planet right now!”
Like. Share. Add pithy uplifting Comment.
Despite my cynical view on these sickening cute memes, I rather liked this one. It made sense to me.
So I left a rough edge.
I guess that’s similar to ending a chapter on a cliff hanger so the reader wants to keep on reading.
One problem I have when writing is striving for that sense of closure, whether it’s a scene or a chapter. I like my writing time to end with a nice neat bow. Something tells me that’s why parts of my novel feel rushed, as if I’m in a hurry to get to the next bit. I rush to finish the current scene/chapter so I can start writing the next time on a new ladder.
Now I realise that the Achievement Pie at the top of the board won’t taste as good as I want it to if all my ladder climbing effort has been rushed.
So for now I’ll leave Garf hanging around his desk, tired and anxious, and hope he understands that in order for him to finish fixing his radios and electronic paraphernalia, I need to take my time with his particular ladder.
Writing is a never-ending journey of discovery and learning.
And hopefully well-earned Achievement Pie.