Category Archives: The Project

Stalled

Well, I suppose this was inevitable, or at least I comfort myself by believing that it was.  Over the past weekend, I did not get any writing done.  Yes, the great Project ground to a halt in July.  While it’s true that I was sick, and the weather was oppressively hot, the bottom line is I still didn’t accomplish anything.  This is bad.

I spent today getting all the disparate pieces of out-of-order text slotted in where they will eventually need to go, and I guess the good news is I can now see where there is more work, and in some cases a lot of work, that still needs to be done.  I do still have a pretty long piece of work that has a general shape to it and I don’t hate it entirely at this point.  Now to recommit to at least 1,000 words a day and knock out the last quarter of it (or whatever the exact proportion turns out to be).

Now currently I have massive gaps in the story so whether it is finished or not isn’t in question, but I did think it was interesting to start thinking about how you know when a story is finished.  The best description or advice that I have read so far (and, as usual, I can’t remember where it’s from) is that you know it’s done when you can read it through and would not add or subtract a single word.  The thing is I’m not sure I ever do that when I read through my own writing.  Even on the final draft of my thesis when I was meant to just be fixing footnotes and so on, I kept changing little parts of the phrasing.

I think there has to be some kind of point at which you walk away – usually I have used an impending deadline to identify that point – but I’m not sure I will know it when I see it.  Perhaps I will need to put my trust in the Eager Volunteers.

Anyway, I hope I will now be un-stalled and get back on pace.  I really can get this thing done if I don’t talk myself out of it.

Word Count: 75,160

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It’s Done??

No, it isn’t.

However, I have reached the lower end of that ‘ideal length’ for a novel (70,000 words) and so that got me to thinking about whether the book (as I guess I can now call it) feels like it is finished, or not.  The first and obvious answer is that it doesn’t – there are several scenes that are not done at all (you can tell on account of the notes that say ‘write better dialogue later’, and so on) and so there is still work to do here (leaving editing temporarily out of the equation).

More importantly, even though the thing isn’t finished, it is starting to feel like it is in the ballpark of getting finished.  Most of the major plot points are there.  I have written the beginning, some junk in the middle, and the end.  I need to flesh some parts out, and I’m sure I will need to clean up a lot of continuity messes, but there is (I think) the framework of the story established.  I’m pretty pleased with it.

My ‘don’t write things in order’ method is kind of coming back to haunt me at this stage, and makes it a little more difficult to assess the level of ‘doneness’.  I have a bunch of scenes written that are not in their correct place and some that I don’t exactly know where they will go in the story, yet, just that they need to be in there someplace.  For that reason I think the next major task needs to be moving all the bits n’ pieces around and trying to spackle and stitch them into place.

All of this before Statler and Waldorf get too much louder, of course.

Anyway, it’s not done, but it does have the feel of something that might one day be done, at least.

 

Word Count: 72,011

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Science?

I was listening to a Guardian Science Weekly podcast the other day and on it was a neuroscientist named Jonah Lehrer talking about creativity.  (The episode is actually from way back but I am currently backlogged on Guardian Science Weeklys)  Anyway to be honest a lot of the time when I hear or read about The Scientific Explanation for Creativity I usually start to get deeply sceptical or to start to wonder what the point of it is – functionally it doesn’t matter if you can say that creativity is the result of a chemical process or gene combination thinger rather than something ineffable, not really.  Some people are still creative to greater and lesser degrees and the label on it doesn’t change what it does, to me anyway.

However Lehrer’s study was really interesting because he wasn’t talking about why creativity exists but rather looking at how creative processes work.  The part that really stuck out at me was something he calls a ‘Feeling of Knowing’, which is when you have the sense that you will be able to solve whatever problem you’re currently working on.  It’s not that you *know* the answer yet, just that you feel that you *can* get there.  He compared it to driving to a destination, and you don’t know how to get there yet, but you do know that if you turn left you’ll be headed in the right direction.  That sense of being headed in the right direction is the Feeling of Knowing.

Anyway Lehrer’s work suggest that when you’re at work on a creative process (writing, painting, whatever) and you have that Feeling of Knowing, this is the time to keep working as long as you possibly can, because your brain is working well.  Drink some coffee and keep at it.  On the other hand, if you *don’t* have that feeling, the more useful thing to do is take a break, engage in some other activity that has nothing to do with the task you’ve been struggling with, and essentially ‘waste’ some time until you’re ready to try again.

Some of this, I suspect, a lot of successful artists and creative people would have known intuitively anyway, but it is interesting to see that scientific study apparently confirms that this intuition is correct.  Unfortunately Lehrer’s work doesn’t have anything to say about how to get the Feeling of Knowing, aside from ‘work very hard’, which again I think a lot of people would have guessed.  So no shortcuts, just work hard, keep at it when you know you are making progress and take breaks when you know you’re not.

The one thing I disagreed with Lehrer about was that he said, essentially, that the idea of inspiration being granted by Muses with unknowable motives was something we’ve moved past in our understanding of creative processes.  I actually think it’s still quite a useful metaphor, really – even based on what he had to say, whether you get that Feeling of Knowing or not may not be entirely under your conscious control, and having it show up (or not) at potentially inconvenient intervals certainly gives the whole process a kind of capricious feeling.  Maybe it’s just nicer to imagine that the capriciousness comes from an external entity rather than our own brain.

Sometimes I really think we do people in the past a disservice by taking everything they wrote quite so literally.  It’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that they didn’t *really* think there were literal magic ladies who would either give an artist inspiration, or not.  It’s just an evocative, and relatively accurate (I think) way of describing how it feels to suddenly have your Feeling of Knowing, and how frustrating it is when you don’t.

Word Count: 67.968

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Reading Series

I’ve been thinking lately about reading habits (again) and how I am the biggest sucker in the world for sticking with a series once I get hooked into it.  I have grimly finished series that I didn’t like at all just because I couldn’t stop partway through.

I comfort myself, slightly, that I have reached the point where I no longer feel obliged to keep buying a series that I don’t enjoy any more.  But I still get the books out of the library.  This just happened – although I won’t say which series (because I don’t want to start ripping authors who are, objectively, way better than me on here) – there was a series of novels that started out really well and got steadily worse.  I managed not to buy the latest one, but I just read it and it’s really not very good either.  I think it was probably worse than the previous installment.  Of course I’ll read the next one when it comes out.

I guess this is, for one thing, the attraction of writing a series.  You get people like me who will keep coming back becauseit’s the next in the series!!!! whereas an entirely new book is a bit more of a crapshoot.  I guess it’s also how a series is, to some extent, supposed to work.  It’s supposed to get you hooked and pull you along right to the end.

I’m not entirely sure why that works though.  I mean yes, obviously if the story is really good and compelling you want to know how it works out.  But what is it about cases where the story isn’t very good that  you still get people like me following along to ‘the end’, even assuming there is a clearly defined end envisioned.  Maybe the answer is that ‘people like me’ is basically ‘me’ and I’m just deeply strange.  Maybe there’s something about stories where not knowing the ending is just too unsatisfying to settle for.  Sometimes I feel like I don’t want to abandon the characters in the middle of whatever situation they happen to be in, which I recognize is a silly way of looking at it.

Anyway, one thing I always appreciate is when each book in a series would work ok as a story on its own.  Partly that means if you can’t find Book One you can jump in anyway, but it’s also (to me) somewhat dissatisfying to read a book that is clearly just a bridge to … the next book.

That oughta hold you until the next update.

 

 

Word Count: 63,522

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Short update for a long weekend

No complaining this time I swear.  It is the Canada Day long weekend here which of course provides many distractions but has also (so far) been amenable to writing.  Now I have kept Things Political off this blog but you don’t need much imagination to know that there are problems with the way things are currently run in the country, but overall, I have to say that I feel extraordinarily fortunate to live where I do.  I can read essentially what I please without being hassled about it.  I can write basically whatever rambling b.s. strikes my fancy without having to worry about getting my door kicked in.  As much as I made a to-do about the weather a while ago I never have to worry about the basics of life, and I even live in a place where a military plane circling overhead for the better part of an hour is not a cause for alarm.  (It was dropping skydivers, practicing for Sunday I guess)

I live in a good place, and I’m very fortunate.

Happy Canada Day.

 

Word Count: 61,468.  ayuh.

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Cause of delay: Vincent Van Gogh

Blog update is a little late today (again!) in part because I spent some time at the art gallery where there is a really good exhibit this summer.  One of the things that really struck me is how rapidly this work was produced.  Obviously writing and painting are very different sorts of endeavour but I certainly can’t imagine working at that kind of speed.  Maybe that’s the difference between someone who is really devoted to their art and someone who is just screwing around.

Speaking of which:

Word Count: 55,521

 

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I blame the heat

So it has been a really quite substantially hot, sticky week here and to say that I have not enjoyed it would be a bit of an understatement.  As I’ve been writing this week I have been tempted to start including all kinds of heat imagery or just hot weather into the story (perhaps I want my characters to share my pain?) but suddenly transporting the action to the middle of the summer would be a bizarre decision even for me.  Anyway I didn’t put any of it in, although those of you who read the last couple of blog entries will see that I found another (somewhat arguably nutso) outlet for the heat stuff.

This has gotten me to thinking, today, about one of the challenges, or maybe ramifications (?) of writing something over as long a period as this thing is taking me.  It’s entirely possible that not only will I keep being tempted to chuck stuff in that is drawn from whatever is going on with me at the time, but I might change the way I think about characters or scenes part way through.  Not exactly sure what to do about that (aside from trying to stifle Statler-and-Waldorfian impulses to mass delete) aside from keeping aware of it.

It wasn’t really a concern with thesis writing because so much of that is tied to what is actually in the evidence and sources and you can’t really run around and make stuff up willy nilly.  (Well, very strongly shouldn’t, anyway)  Writing fiction is more fun because you can do that, but I guess I need to think about how to make sure what I end up with isn’t an incoherent or schizophrenic disaster area.

Or maybe it will be and I’ll just claim that was intentional.

 

 

(not really)

Word Count: 52, 416

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Recycling Reading

Blog update is a little late today, sorry!  It’s about to get insanely hot again here so perhaps I am paralysed with dread.  Anyway, I’ve been thinking some more about my reading habits and the fact that I am one of the all-time great re-readers.

Some people I know – people who really like books – read something once and then never pick it up again.  Basically once they’ve been through it once they’re done with it.  I, on the other hand, will re-read books I like many, many times.  Some of that is just because it’s relaxing.  When I get to the end of a long day, especially if I have spent it trying to decipher essays or microfilm, a lot of the time I really don’t want something that is going to challenge me, so a favorite story just feels very comfortable and easy to enjoy.

The part about not wanting to be challenged is probably reflective of terrible taste in literature, I suppose – when I’m reading for pleasure a lot of the time I really do just want to be able to enjoy it, and not necessarily be trying to figure out what it all means.  I’m sort of at peace with that, though.  I have terrible taste in a lot of things and at this point I just enjoy what I enjoy and try not to worry about it all too much.

The other part of rereading things, though, is that a lot of the time I really do notice something new that I didn’t the first time through.  Maybe there was a bit of foreshadowing I missed the first time, or I hadn’t really appreciated an effective piece of description.  It’s a very rare book that I don’t find a new way to enjoy at least two or three times, and after that, well, my favorite ooks are like comfy pjs – both are very pleasant at the end of a long day.

 

 

Word Count: 48,101

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Halfway Haus

I swear I’m not going to get overly obsessed with word count milestones, but I was reading the other day a couple of things about the ‘ideal length’ for a novel (apparently 70-100,000 words) which puts me roughly half way along.  This got me to thinking, first of all, if the story feels roughly half way done.  It’s hard to say, probably at least in part because I’m writing it out of order.  I have the last scene written, and the opening parts of course, and then there are some indeterminately-sized holes in between.  I guess mostly it feels like I have written a substantial hunk of stuff, but that there’s still at least a reasonable amount yet to do, which is probably good, at this stage.

However the ideal length article also got me to thinking about whether there is any such thing as an ideal length for a story, to begin with.  Some stories take several books worth of writing to get themselves told, and yet sometimes you read a short story which is basically perfect, wouldn’t get better if expanded, and probably would get worse.  Some writers give you a 600-page book and the whole thing is great, and some give you 250 pages and you’re finding bits that could really go all the way through.

What I tell students when they ask me how long their answer for an essay question should be is the tried-but-true ‘as long as a piece of string’ – write an answer as long as you need it to be to say everything you want to say.  They never like that very much because mostly they’re looking to find out the height of the bar they have to scrape over, but damn it, it’s still the right answer.

I guess my main reaction to the question of ‘ideal length’ for a story (obviously leaving questions of publish-ability aside) is more or less the same.

Word Count: 44,786

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40 degrees and 40,000 words

Not sure what to write for an entry today as I do an update on the progress of the project.  It is ungodly hot here today, which makes me very glad that the main work I will be doing is writing.  It occurs to me how generally fortunate I am to have writing back in my life again – it is easily portable to a variety of weather conditions, but also I feel very lucky to have the time to play around with my imagination and try and do things with words for a while again.

I still feel pretty rusty with it all but it’s not in ways that I can coherently describe in a blog entry.  I have a nagging sense that there should be a better way of expressing certain things, or a more elegant way of getting an idea across, though.  It’s possible that’s just Statler and Waldorf lurking in the background, though.

I’ve done my first significant edit to something the Eager Volunteers have seen – first of all we’ll see if it helped that troubled scene or not, but I guess we’ll also see how I do with this editting thing.  I’ve already written about my issues with growing dislike for my own writing, so I won’t belabour it again, but I’m a little unsure how that’s going to synergize with the editorial process.

Anyway, I’m rambling a bit today so I’ll cut it here and try to do better the next time.

I will also just briefly go ‘yay, me’ for hitting 40,000 words, which is one of the longest things I have yet written, fiction or non-fiction.

Word Count: 40,358

 

p.s. WordPress reminds me that this is lucky post #13, so no wonder it has issues.  I feel much relieved. 😛

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