Friday, February 11, 2011

Stalling Out at 30k

I'm at that point in my word counts right now where things get difficult.

I recognize this point now -- as opposed to the past three or four projects where I would just come up against it and shrug. It's right around the 30k or 35k mark. The writing just stalls out.

It's not that I've run out of ideas or don't know what to write next. I definitely know where the story goes and usually I'll have the next few scenes or story arcs blocked out in my head. What happens is that I simply hit a mental block and don't want to write anymore.

Naturally, this is something I have to overcome.

And I have overcome it, in the past. I've written two "novels." That is to say, I've written at length on two continuous streams of text that congeal together to form some semblance of a story.

I've attempted several others.

Each time I start a project, I can see improvement in my skills with word usage, character development, world building, and plot. My craft improves, in other words.

But this 30,000 mark is still a challenge for me.

My first completed work, "Runic," totals around 32,000 words. Right. On. The Mark. I hadn't realized this until today, when I identified this 30,000 mark as the bane of my productivity.

Now, I've talked in the past about how "Runic" needs to be revised. But that's something of a lie. Truth is, the book needs to be totally rewritten -- possibly even re-imagined. There are solid ideas in there, and the core concept of the character dynamic is a solid one (when I have the skills to pull it off), but the rest of it is flat, haphazard, and way too simple.

I think I now have a reason (aside from a simple "I-wasn't-a-good-writer-back-then" explanation). Put simply, I was brought up short by the 30,000 mark. I didn't want to go past it, for whatever reason, so I cut corners, simplified world and plot details, cheated my characters out of there development, and otherwise squeezed the life out of my work in order to maintain my secure-feeling barrier of 30,000 words.

Almost one year after starting "Runic" (which took about two months to finish), I started work on "Godslayers." It's a project that I am still very excited about -- one that I knew was going to be more ambitious than anything I had seriously attempted before. I worried that I might not have had enough practice writing completed stories and single novels and et cetera before embarking on such an epic journey (I still worry about these things, actually). In the end, however, I decided I didn't care. Epic fantasy is what I'm passionate about. So that's what I write about.

I think you can guess where this is going.

Yeah, stopped around 30,000 words.

Again, it's not that I didn't know what to write. I had just finished a major action sequence for the book -- the first of many that I've envisioned. I knew where the overall plot was going, I was beginning to settle into writing the characters. The world was fleshed out from months of research, and the plot was set for at least another 60,000 words from months of outlining.

But I just stopped. I claimed that I was growing burned-out. I needed to take a break. School was growing more busy. I needed to come at it with a fresh mind.

Lies. All of it.

I don't know what the truth is about this subconscious barrier. But if I were to make a guess at it, I'd say that it's fear on several levels:

Fear of the unknown -- I'm comfortable at 30,000 words; I've done it before, so it's not as much of a milestone.

Fear of success, perhaps -- a good portion of myself can't believe that my fragile self is capable of producing tomes like Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and others, even though my entire self wishes to do so.

It may very well be a fear of letting go -- usually by the 30k mark, the dust of my faltering first steps within the project are beginning to settle and the world is coming alive with more detail than I had initially imagined, which should allow me to set my characters free and see what they do; but I'm always afraid of what my characters will get themselves into when they deviate from my handcrafted outline (however meager that outline is).

Actually, come to think of it, the problem here could simply be that I don't trust my characters to take care of themselves. Which, of course, means that I as an author am not comfortable enough writing them yet. Which further means that I need to spend more time on character development before starting a project.

Which... is something I keep telling myself. *shrug* I never learn, do I?

Anyways, triumph moment of this story: I have made it past the 30k mark.

With NaNo, I finished off the novel at 60,000 words. Give or take. If my memory serves, the 30,000 mark was a difficult one to pass, but I'll bet I can't even remember or figure out when that was by reading the text. And it doesn't matter that I had difficulty, because I still pressed through to meet my goal (and then some).

So that's what I'm going to do here. And with every project I write go forward until the day I die.

Anyone else? Can you identify any weird mental blocks or rhythms in your writing?

The Journey to 500K.
Current Progress: 40,634/500,000 words

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