The Uncertainty of Writing

I have kind of a weird problem…

How do you stop two characters from having romantic tension?

I know…I said it was weird. Usually I would be asking how to create romantic tension. In fact, I have asked that question many times in my life. Not this time of course, oh no. This time, I’m over 20k deep into a novella and I’m finding that the two characters—who I absolutely need not to have any romantic tension in order for the whole plot to work—keep making eyes at each other.

What even is this? Where was this energy when I wrote that Regency Romance two years ago?

And I keep trying to steer the characters away from each other and then on the next page I accidentally steer them right back. It’s a very strange problem to have, but one that got me thinking…

The thing is. I don’t actually know that they have romantic chemistry. I mean, I think they do. I see it all over the place. But maybe I’m just seeing it because I don’t want to see it. Maybe I’m just worrying over nothing. Maybe I could hand this story to a hundred different people and none of them would see what I see in it. How do I know whether to trust my instincts or not?

Writing is an uncertain game. There are no concrete rules. No time limits. No points to be won. I can’t know that what I think is in this novella is actually there until I finish, edit, and actually show it to other people, but there’s a lot of time and work that needs to go into it before I can get someone else’s opinion on it. And frankly, that’s a big time investment only to find out that I’ve written something that’s not at all what I’d intended. But that’s writing, specifically long-form writing. You can never know you’re doing the right thing for a story until you’re done, and even then, there are no guarantees. Every reader is going to see things just a shade differently than the next.

It sounds like I’m getting down on the process of writing here. I don’t mean to. I love it. And I hate it. And I’m confounded by it.

But it’s all I want to do.

So, if anyone has any suggestions about how to stop characters from having romantic tension, I’m totally open to them because I’m going to have to rely on my gut here that the story is going in the direction I think it is. And if you have any suggestions on how to feel more certain of my own assessment of my work, I’m here for that, too.

Milwordy: Week 1 Thoughts

Stats!

Average Daily Wordcount: 3,075 (roughly)

Week Total Wordcount: 21,522 (2,077 over my goal!)

Words to go:

Month: 61,812

Year: 978,478

Okay, so what have I learned this week?

Welp. I’ve learned that no matter how much pre-planning I do, when I actually get to drafting things will change. Sometimes big things. Sometimes things that change the entire plot. I can choose to see this is a big pain in my ass, or as an exciting surprise that keeps me on my toes. Or both. Mostly both.

I’ve learned that morning is by far the best time for me to write, and if I don’t get it done before work, I’m going to hate myself in the evening. I write slower at night, which makes Milwordy take up an even bigger chunk of my day. No matter when I write, Milwordy is eating up a lot of time (an estimated 22 hours in the first week! Yikes!) Writing at night also makes this challenge feel more like a chore and less like an adventure and that’s not going to carry me through a year of this. So…mornings it is!

I’ve also learned that you really rack up a lot of words in a week during this challenge, and they aren’t all winners.

I knew that—of course—I would be left with a lot of less-than-stellar sentences each day. That’s what happens when you write fast with no thought of revision. I am a seasoned NaNoWriMo participant. I get how this works. But the thing is, it’s very different to know that than to experience it when you’re writing around 3k words a day and you’re planning on doing it for a year instead of a month.

So, what am I going to do about this? I had resigned myself to having a lot of revision work to do next year, and not worrying about drafting anything new for a while after that. That was…dumb. I was being dumb. I’m not saying there aren’t people out there for whom this strategy would work, but I have been both blessed and cursed with an overactive imagination that likes to come up with new stories as often as it can manage. In fact, the more I draft, the more ideas I tend to get. That means, I’m not going to be able to simply put drafting on hold at the end of this crazy experiment so that I can revise all the crap I wrote this year. And that means, I am going to have to edit as I go.

I sort of…kind of…maybe…had it in my head that at some point during this year I would do a little bit of editing, but if I’m being really honest about it, what I was really hoping for was to draft right through. Since that’s clearly not going to happen, I actually have to come up with a game plan for how this whole editing thing will go.

I’ve already tried writing in the morning and editing at night and frankly that’s not a time commitment I can make every day. It’s just not. So, what am I going to do instead? As I see it, I have two options:

  1. I can draft for a while, until I need a break, whether that takes days, or weeks, or months, and then spend some serious time editing. This, in many ways seems saner—more like how I would normally work. The downside is that I know my word count will be much higher during drafting than during revision. I will have times where I’m getting a lot of words in and times where I’m not. Sounds chaotic and likely to lead me to playing catch up. That, in my experience, is how challenges are abandoned. Or…
  2. I can structure this a little more and not wait until I get tired of drafting to take a break. My first thought is to do what Kate Cavanaugh is doing and write more words everyday (3,831!) and then take a break from it on the weekends. Only, unlike Kate, I will not actually be breaking for weekends. I will be editing (that’s a kind of break….right?). This is…intense. Writing that many words may be unreachable for every work day. I’m not sure until I try it. I will be adding some words during editing, of course. I’m just not sure how many until I actually test it out for a while. If I do it and find that, hey! I’m adding a ton of words during editing, then I could potentially lower my workday daily word counts just a bit. But I can’t know that right now and I don’t want to fall behind before the first month is up.

So those are my options as I see them. I’m not sure yet which way to go, but I am totally open to suggestions.

Seriously. No suggestion is unwanted.

Writer’s Block: Be More Specific

This is in response Ego’s Blog Challenge. For more info, go to That Writing Place Discord server and be sure to check out Amanda McCormick’s blog.

I’ve heard writers talk about writer’s block as though it’s this mystical illness you can contract if you even think too long about writing. Like—I have a cold, so I can’t breathe through my nose. I have the chickenpox, so I can’t stop itching. I have writer’s block, so I can’t write.

I’m not buying it.

Writer’s block, at least in this sense, does not exist. Sure, there are things that make writing more difficult—and I’m going to get to those in a minute—but there’s no affliction that makes it so you literally can’t write.

I mean, unless you’re in a coma or dead or something. Then sure, you literally can’t write, but in those instances I think calling it writer’s block is underselling the obstacle a bit, yes?

What writers really mean when they talk about writer’s block is that writing is suddenly harder for them to do than it once was. It’s harder to sit down and put words to paper. They’re uninspired. They don’t feel like it. The words just won’t seem to materialize.

Words don’t materialize on their own. You make them. Sometimes it’s easy. Often it’s really, really not. But again, unless you’re in a coma or otherwise physically incapable of putting words onto paper (or into a digital document) then you can write.

So no, I don’t think writer’s block is real.

Except that I do.

Because using writer’s block as a catch-all term for having difficulty with writing is describing a real experience that almost all writers face at one point or another. For some of us, we may even face it often. But if we are to soldier on with this writing thing it’s very important to make that distinction between what we can’t do and what we struggle to do. If it helps, imagine what it would be like if writing a novel was a 9 to 5 job you got hired to do. Your boss would not take writer’s block as an excuse and I’m betting, faced with the pressure of having to write in order to get food on the table, you would manage to put those words to paper, even when it was hard.

Beyond distinguishing impossible from difficult, I think it’s important to talk about writer’s block less as its own phenomenon, and more as a category of things that make writing difficult.

Writer’s block is not a disease we catch with no apparent cause. There are reasons writing gets difficult and only by diagnosing those specific reasons can we really work past them.

For instance, last year I stopped writing because my husband was going through cancer treatments. I didn’t stop writing because I didn’t have the time or the ideas stopped coming. I stopped because, mentally and emotionally, I was not in a good place and had a hard time bringing myself to write. Would it have been impossible? No. There are many people who write through hard times. It wasn’t that I couldn’t. It was that I let writing take a backseat to other things going on in my life. That, I think, is understandable. Everyone has a right, even a responsibility to take care of their health first before anything else. It wasn’t “writer’s block” that stopped me from writing. It was stress. And that stress needed to be dealt with before I could start writing again.

But is taking a mental health break going to solve writer’s block in every circumstance? Absolutely not. I have also felt blocked in moments where I hadn’t outlined my plot properly and didn’t know where to take the story next. The solution? Not taking a complete break from writing, but going back to my outline and brainstorming before continuing on.

There are probably as many different causes for writer’s block as there are writers and at least as many solutions. But we can’t find the solutions if we’re being vague and calling it “writer’s block.” Figure out what’s really going on: Stress, poor time management, under-plotting, a loss of interest in the current project, etc. Then, and only then, can you truly move past your block. Be specific in your diagnosis, and the solution will become more apparent.

So, what do you think? Do I have it wrong and writer’s block is totally a real affliction with no apparent cause and no discovered treatment? Have you experienced block? How did you get over it?

And So It Begins…

I did it! I started Milwordy! And on my very first day I exceeded my daily goal by 376 words! So what I’m saying is, I’ve totally got this thing.

Maybe.

Okay, so I’ve done NaNoWriMo many times in my life and I know that the first day is always one of the easiest. I mean, with all that grade-A excitement flowing through my veins, how could the first day not be a home run? Still Milwordy is a lot more words per day than NaNo is and so it was feasible that this first day would be harder. I’m happy to report that it was not.

I’m thinking each week I’m going to do one blog post about what I’ve learned that week. I’m not sure if that’s going to work. Will I actually learn new things each week? I hope so. Will it be enough to fill a whole blog post? I have no idea. I told you that I was still working out all the kinks here. Sometimes you just have to jump in feet first and hope that you don’t drown in a river of your own ambition.

So, what have I learned so far? Well, I’ve learned that the reason that I wasn’t getting a lot of actual writing done in the last year was a lack of “butt in chair, hands on keyboard.” You see, today I wrote 3,154 words and that’s more than I’ve written in a single day in a very long time. But I did it and really, after I started, it wasn’t so hard. Even though when I woke up this morning I was tired and not quite sure how I wanted to begin my story, I did it. There’s no replacement for just doing the thing.

Oh, and I also learned that Instagram is not quite so scary as I thought and the filters do half the work for you. BTW, follow me on Instagram and Twitter! I would love to hear from you!

I hope your September has started out with a bang, and if you’re doing Milwordy: Happy Writing!

Milwordy: Which Words Count?

In the previous post, My Milwordy Declaration, we discussed what this challenge is: One million words in a year. Now you might be asking yourself, what kind of words count toward the final goal? Drafts? Edits? Texts? Emails? Tweets? If I type out the phrase “She let out a breath she didn’t even know she was holding” 83,334 times, does that count?

I mean, I would get really, really fast at typing out a top YA cliché. So that’s something.

Everyone participating has to make the decision of what to count and what not to count for themselves based on what they hope to accomplish. Since everyone’s goals are different, everyone’s Milwordy will be different.

For me, the idea of writing a million words is not so much about the end products of a million written words and supersonic typing skills. It’s to improve my prose through practice. Tweets and Texts? Probably not going to help me much so I don’t plan on counting them. Not to say that those aren’t an art form in themselves, they just aren’t the areas I want to focus on. I want to improve my fiction.

That’s why I’ll be counting fiction drafting words and any prewriting that is narrative in nature. If say, I write a little vignette that is part of a character’s backstory, but will not be included in the draft, I’m counting that because it gives me practice at prose. If I’m writing a scene synopsis, that also counts. But if I’m making a list of character traits or settings or plot points, for example, those aren’t doing much to improve my actual writing so those don’t count.

Revision is a little trickier for me. If I’m writing a completely new sentence, that definitely counts. But if I’m just tweaking an existing one, does that count? Kind of…maybe?

I’m still working out some of the kinks. But I’m nowhere near starting on revision, so I figure I’ll stumble over that bridge when I get there.

Oh, and I’m also counting these blog posts because, although they are not fiction, I do think they will help with my overall writing skills.

So those are my own personal rules. Have you figured out your own yet? I’d love to hear about it!

My Milwordy Declaration

So I spent 2019 and much of 2020 half-outlining about 6 different projects and writing exactly zero of them. Now I’m planning to write all of them in one year.

Uh-huh.

Look, this wasn’t how I planned it. Prior to last year, I was actually doing very well on the “focusing on one project at a time” front. I was getting up early. I was writing every day. I got in about 150k-200k in 2018 between all the writing, editing, outlining, etc. It was going as well as it ever had. I was so close to having a project that was actually done. Like, for the first time, totally finished.

And then life happened. My husband got cancer. My mom had a stroke. And then that whole global pandemic thing happened.

Yeah, you know how it goes. Life’s a…

Anyway, I was in the midst of climbing back on my weary horse when I happened to catch Kate Cavanaugh’s Youtube video where she announced The Milwordy Challenge. If you don’t know, Milwordy is when you write a million words. In a year.

In. A. Year.

That’s roughly 2,740 words a day. You know how much NaNoWriMo is? 1,667. Milwordy is over a thousand words a day more than NaNo and that’s if you write every single day of the year. And let’s be honest, I’m going to need to write every day of the year to finish this baby.

I’d heard of this particular challenge before and it always appealed to me, but I wrote it off as a pipe dream. Who really does that? One million words in a year? Bananas. And anyway, as an outliner, I would need to have a bunch of outlines ready to go before I even started. Who has time to just work on a bunch of outlines?

You can see where I’m going with this.

Kate’s video hit at a fortuitous time for me. So, with arms full of semi-fleshed out outlines, just begging to be polished off and written, I am officially declaring my intent to start the Milwordy challenge on September 1st, 2020 and (hopefully) finish on August 31st, 2021.

Will you be joining me?