Amazing what can happen when you have the finish line in sight. – Nathan Fillion
Okay, you got me: he’s not talking about writing, but a (probably justifiably) cancelled TV show, but that doesn’t make it wrong.
It’s the 25th. Five days to go.1
By now, one of two things have probably happened — you’ve either–
What? Okay, fine. There are three things:
- You can see where the story needs to end.
- You can see that the story’s actually a lot longer than 50k.
- You have no fucking idea where the story’s going.
Conveniently, you do the same thing in any of those situations.
If 1, you are charging toward the actual finish line.
If 2, you are charging to a big crisis point. (You didn’t know there was a crisis point coming? There is. You need to leave things on a horrifying, terrible cliffhanger at 50k, so you are forced to come back to it next month. I will allow nothing less.)
If 3, you are charging to blast your way out of the marshy wasteland and into some clear territory, where you can get your bearings.
We’ve been in the Wastelands a long while2, and it’s time to come out. As scary as they were when we headed in, we’ve gotten kind of used to them; we’ve gotten comfortable. Are they nice? No. Are there creature comforts to be had? No. Have we known the lilt of another human voice? Nope, and believe me, that’s starting to show in our eyes.
But for all that, there have been upsides: we can talk to ourselves, cry at the triumphs and agonies we’ve made up out of our of heads, laugh at the jokes that maybe no one else will ever think is funny. It’s hard to leave a place like that, where we can really let the writercrazy out.
But it’s time. We’re headed back for civilization now, and to cross that border, we need to charge – to force it.
This is good. It means one last little burst of crazy; a farewell to the wasteland.
Don’t overthink it.
Actually, to quote my wife, it’s best not to ‘think’ it, period. Whatever’s coming off your fingers and onto the page, go with it – it’s the story that wants to be told, and right now, you’re writing it just for you, so throw it out there and enjoy the process.
By way of example, I’m going to share a short bit from the story I’m working on. Bear with me.
The princess heard a squirrel-sized thump from the throne room. She knew that was bad, because squirrel-sized noises didn’t carry that far (she was down the hall and out of view of the guards) unless they were very loud to begin with, and that meant that Mak might have fallen down the chimney.
It also meant that the guards next to the throne room doors probably heard it.
“Did you hear something?” one of the guards asked the other.
“Oh dear,” the princess whispered.
“You know, I think I did,” said the other guard. “Sounded a bit like –”
“A thump?” suggested the first guard.
“That’s the word for it,” the second guard said. “A thump. I wonder –”
The princess heard another sound, then, which she also recognized, and wished she didn’t.
“Here now, did you hear that?” asked the first guard.
“I did,” said the second guard, “but that wasn’t a thump.”
“Not at all,” agreed the first guard. “Sounded more like a clang — something metal, like.”
“That’s it,” said the other guard. “Think we’d best check it out?”
“Oh dear,” said the princess.
“Well, it came from the throne room,” replied the guard. “And we’re watching the throne room for any disturbances, so it seems that’s exactly what we should be doing.”
“What’s that?” asked the other guard.
“What’s what?” said the first.
“What’s the thing we should be doing?” said the second guard.
“Check it out,” said his partner, “the noise. What else could I have meant?”
“Well, the way you said it, you could have been saying that we should just continue watching it,” explained the second guard. “The throne room, I mean. That’s the problem with pronouns, you know. Antecedents.”
The first guard tipped his head. “Ante-whats?”
“Antecedents. It’s one of those whassits. Grammatical bits, init it?” The guard shrugged.
The first guard peered at his counterpart. “Are you drunk?”
The guard scowled. “Just because you didn’t clarify the action within the sentence, don’t go accusing me –”
“Let’s just open things up and take a look, shall we?” He glared at the second guard, who matched his expression.
“Oh excellent,” sighed the princess, who had walked up to stand next to them while they argued. “I just need to pop my head in quickly and have another look at the drapes.”
The guards both blinked at the princess. They reminded her of a pair of not particularly smart owls. “Here now,” one of them said. “Begging your princess’s pardon, but we really shouldn’t do that.”
“But you just said you were going to open up the door and look inside anyway,” pointed out the princess.
“Well, we are,” said the guard, looking at his partner for support. “But we can’t have you — that is to say — didn’t you already get a good enough look?” He shifted his feet and scratched at the back of his neck. “Purple drapes wasn’t it?”
“Certainly,” said the princess, “but I can’t recall if it was more of a lilac or a plum purple.” She leaned in, as though imparting a secret. “That’s terribly important to some people.”
“I’m sure,” said the guard, who wasn’t. “But we can’t have you looking in.”
“Why ever not?” asked the princess.
“It’s… the captain,” said the other guard. “He’s not one to make many exceptions, you understand, and we already made one for you earlier.” He glanced down the hallway in both directions. “He’d be very cross with us if we did it again.”
The first guard frowned. “If we did what again?”
“Don’t start,” his partner muttered, never taking his eyes off the princess.
Don’t get me wrong; that bit amuses the HELL out of me – reminds me of Terry Pratchett, I suppose – but I have no illusions that it will survive through the editing process and into the final story.
Any of you nodding along with what I just said have missed the point.
It not about what will survive will survive to final edits. It’s about getting the story down.
It’s about writing. That’s it.
Put your head down and charge. There’s the finish line.
Get back to work.
1 – Close enough. Don’t math at me.
2 – Actually, driving across Nebraska today, so I’m still in them.