But then I get bogged down eating elephants.
Yes, writing a novel is not something that can be done over a weekend, or even a week or two. Sometimes it takes months to finish the darn elephant, even taking one bite at a time. Elephants are big … and so are novels. That’s probably the reason most people who aspire to write books (estimated at 73% of the population) never do. It’s a daunting task.
Through the six books I’ve completed, I’ve found that starting the next book/elephant is the hardest part. Not because I don’t have the idea, or the story bores me, or any other such excuse. It’s simply because I know what a major undertaking it is. Once you commit to a book, it NEEDS to become all-consuming, otherwise you’ll never finish. (Or it will take you a Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle to complete. That’s eleven years if you didn’t already know.)
To help cut the elephant in the room down to size, some authors outline meticulously so they will know what each bite will consist of. Others just jump right in and start munching away. I’m kind of in the middle. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s headed, but mainly I let the characters lead me through the details.
Yet one of the most-important things I’ve learned is that you need to give yourself a lot of little victories throughout the writing process. What I mean by this is that you need to be aware of your progress as you go along, encouraged each day that you are getting ever-closer to your goal. Otherwise you’ll start believing that the task is just too big to complete.
For the most part, I accomplish this by writing most of the book out of sequence. Just as a movie is filmed as a series of out-of-sequence scenes and then edited together at the end, I take certain parts of the book that I already have worked out in my mind and just blast through these in quick order. Even though I may have to do extensive editing at the end to make everything mesh, at least I keep knocking out bite after bite of the elephant, eventually scaling the thing down the size of a small calf.
Here’s an example … sort of.
Suppose you have three main characters all doing different things throughout the book. I may write the complete story of one of the characters, even though in the finished the book we’ll be jumping back and forth between what each character is doing. If I find what this person is doing the most interesting at the time, then I write about that person. At other times, I may have a barroom fight outlined in my mind, even though it doesn’t happen for another 100 pages. But I’ll sit down and write it, and next thing you know, another 5,000 words have been chopped off the elephant. It sure beats having writer’s block. (A lot of writer’s block is a result of not knowing what comes next. Screw that! Write what you already know comes next, even if it’s the last scene in the book. Most people already have THAT worked out before they even write the first word.)
The key is to always be completing some part of the book, be it a scene, an important dialog or a chapter. Let’s face it, if you have 75% of a difficult task already done, the remaining 25% is all on the downhill slide. This remaining quarter may be the hardest part to figure out, but now we’re talking about only 25,000 words instead of 100,000. And the impetus is there to solve whatever plot issues you may be having. The book is almost done and the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.
You will be amazed at how slowly a book begins … but how quickly it can get done once you reach this 75%/25% point. So if that’s the case, then get the 75% of the book done as quickly as possible. The rest will come naturally at the end.
The moral of the story is don’t get bogged down with writing in sequence. Write what you already have worked out. After all, these are usually the parts of the book that interest YOU the most. You might as well keep yourself interested in the story as you go along, because you’re going to be sitting at this dinner table for a very long time.
Now … back to work.
Write-on, my friends!
T.R. (Tom) Harris