Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


November 16th, 2011

The problem with the word-count-per-day goal — that is, swearing to oneself to write a thousand or two-thousand words everyday — is that to be successful you have to have a pretty good idea of what happens next in your story.

It’s no problem at all to write a thousand or two-thousand words of useless rambling thoughts. It’s also fairly easy to write a thousand or two-thousand words when you know exactly what comes next, and it’s a scene you’re feeling, and the voice of the characters and tone of the story is firmly established in your mind.

But what happens when you have no clear idea of the next scene? I’ve got eight published novels, with four more in various stages of development, but I still find myself in this situation all the time — even when I have a rough plan, even when I can see some of the scenes I want to hit down the road. Somehow I have to figure out an interesting way to get the protagonist from where s/he is, to, well, somewhere else, and stir in some conflict and/or mystery while I’m at it. But all too often I feel utterly clueless on how to do this.

So I sit down to just write — you know the formula: trust the subconscious, type away, something will come. Hrmmm…

Does this work for you?

Very rarely, I’ll discover useful plot lines this way. Mostly though, it doesn’t get me anywhere. So I wander about the house. Check email. Check ebook sales stats. Check twitter. Check facebook. Check G+. Shut off the wi-fi and try to write… I can spend hours like this, and then quite often, around three in the afternoon, a switch gets flipped on and suddenly I’m writing useful words!

Sometimes the switch doesn’t get flipped to “on” until nine or ten o’clock at night. In the past year I’ve had some extremely useful midnight writing sessions.

It’s pretty clear that, for me at least, ideas need to percolate. I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could sit down and know what comes next, and write it, and then move on to another project. I wish I didn’t squander so much time that could be put to productive use doing other things. But it is what it is, and I’ve been dealing with the process long enough that, despite the frustrations, I can remain fairly confident that the words will eventually come.

Does any of this sound familiar? How do you deal with the question of what comes next?

Posted on: Wednesday, November 16th, 2011 at 6:32 pm
Categories: Writing.
Tags: ,

4 Responses to “Percolation”

  1. Deborah J. Ross Says:

    We think very much alike on this. It’s so easy to fall into quantifying creative output — so many words per day, so many pages per week. Goals are good, but creating a story involves so much more than those final words.

    I’m a revision-based writer, so I do push myself to draft quickly when the story is flowing. But I’m experienced enough to realize when it isn’t, when it’s time to step back, go off and do something else, and get my mind derailed from the oncoming train wreck. If the bones of the story are sound, even if they aren’t all there, I have what I need to work with.

    I wonder if this is why NaNoWriMo doesn’t appeal to me, but I’ve done well with shorter length/time challenges. Novels are too complex to barrel through in a month.

  2. Linda Says:

    I agree about Nanowrimo–it works for some, but not for me.

    The other thing I’ve found is that when I’m having a really hard time pushing forward, it’s often turns out I’m pushing in the wrong direction. Once the plot gets revised, things flow much more smoothly.

  3. Karen Sandler Says:

    I always have a detailed synopsis before I start. I’m a terrible pantser (i.e., someone who can write by the seat of her pants). I have to know where I’m going. However, at times, just like you, I’ll get stuck despite knowing exactly where I’m going. And I stare at that empty page.

    However, for me, all that Twitter, G+, checking Amazon stats, etc., is a real negative. It seems to bleach the creativity right out of me. It’s better for me to sit and stare at the empty screen and stay focused as best I can.

    BTW, that synopsis I so laboriously write? I almost never actually look at it once it’s written. And I go off the rails often, wherever my imagination takes me.

  4. Linda Says:

    I always start with some level of an outline too, and with a good idea of how I could end the story. The current WIP, though, wasn’t worked out very well, and there are always big empty holes in any project, so yes, lots of staring at the screen–or letting myself be distracted by other things. In that one sense this business was easier when we weren’t always online!

    That’s fascinating that you never look at the synopsis afterward! I constantly refer to mine, though I don’t necessarily follow it…