Today’s Ramble focuses on explaining the series of events that happen to me when writing a book. I say this—not being the largest expert in the world (Let’s use Mister King as ‘our expertise goes up to 11’)—but having suffered through writing 11 books start to finish and approaching closing first draft on 3 more sometime in the first half of 2017. I’ve done stuff.
I have the following ‘on my writing resume as ‘completed’:
- 5 books of Continue Online (Book 5 publishes early 2017)
- 3 books of Royal Scales (Book 3 publishes early 2017)
- 3 completed books that will never see the light of day; henceforth ‘The Work Which Shall Not be Named’
My in progress works are:
- The Fiasco book 1 (~ 80% done with draft)
- Fragments of Aeon book 1 (~40% done with draft)
- Lawless Ink Year 1 (~30% done with draft)
- Royal Scales book 4 (~50% done with draft)
- Wayward Online book 1 (~10% done with draft)
And a few other scattered bits of nonsense I’ve plotted out for future projects. So on a writer schedule, the workload is high enough to keep my ADD busy for a long time.
The percentages are important. I get the same general types of events at different stages of a novel. This Ramble won’t get into the other projects I’m trying to juggle in life (such as a real day job and family). I won’t touch on sending it to the editor—but simply writing draft copy.
Here’s a dramatic reenactment of a coder racing toward completion process. It works for writers too. (I’m going to say dramatic reenactment a few times—bear with me)
And at times, writing feels exactly like the image above. The only redeeming factor is that I can walk away at any point. As such, deadlines are completely based on my own drive to complete projects. It makes it easier to stay in the game for a bit longer.
First, a general review of what 100% means in terms of this Ramble.
100% equals completion (in my world); where I’m ready to shove the book towards an editor, my wife, or publishing foolishly without an editor (and as an aside, this is a good lesson too—don’t publish without a real editor unless you are god’s gift to editing. If you are all that and a bag of chips, consider editing full time instead. You might make more that way).
In reality, 100% on draft is about 66% complete toward actual publishing.
I’ll spare you the wall of confusion that is professional editing, covers, audio books (which I’m still trying to figure out), self-promoting, sobbing about feedback, having my wife wonder what’s wrong with me, drinking away the bad times, and rolling my face on the keyboard for the next book because maybe I can wash away mistakes that were cruelly magnified by crippling cynicism and inferiority.
Writing a story is way easier than editing for me—despite the time sink variance. Editing is easier than self-promoting. No author I talk to is perfect at all three parts because the goals, targets, and hot topics are constantly shifting.
A Dramatic Reenactment of the Writing Events
Here’s the rough order on how my ‘writing sprints’ go for each novel. What I mean by this is—the actual time I spend focusing on one novel for a few weeks. Pretty much every single story gets bundled together into this process—keep in mind this is for longer works and not the shorter ones which I have not even remotely mastered.
1. I start with a character, a story arc or two, some world elements – and the 100% ending scene / goal vaguely formed in my head. Most of the time I let this idea simmer for days, weeks, or even months.
- Total balls being juggled: 4
- Total details written: a moderate amount
- On track: Yes
- Current action plan: face the keyboard while feeling elated about success
2. The first 20% flows out like magic. I look down, look up, and bam, five or six chapters are done. This is often a self-delusion. More on that later. During this step I find out all sorts of stuff about the character by adding in details, interacting with other people that are invented on the spot by scene—and slowly establish their value / presence as ongoing existences.
- Total Balls being juggled: 30
- Total balls I think I’m Juggling: 8
- Total details written: I lost track already
- On track: I think so—but it’s a lie.
- Current action plan; sort the balls by color and try rolling them instead of juggling
3. The next 10% are me rechecking the books ending point, writing out snippets of other scenes that will be utterly useless later, and trying to write more chapters / content. Usually in this point I start questioning my sanity and introduce a topic that is relatively risky, socially awkward, or hard to explain without sounding callous.
- Total balls being rolled: 4 again.
- Total balls ignored: 30
- Total balls I swear I’ll reuse because two are pretty: 40
- On track: Almost. Probably not. Currently consulting the train track construction crew
- Current action plan: Pretend the balls are sorted. They’re not. Resume face rolling
4. I keep writing and fool myself into thinking the storyline is close to 40% done. It’s not—and part of my written-out scenes need to be reworked. The next few writing sprints on this novel end up being a tone rework of earlier scenes to try and get them in line. 5% of the material ends up being wrong. I’m roughly at 35% complete instead.
- Stopped juggling balls. No longer tracking this metric
- The storyline has been flooded and doesn’t have insurance for water damage
- Current action plan: I’ve done this before. Keep on rolling face upon keyboard.
At this point I pause and take stock. Sometimes I’ll switch projects for a little while to loosen up the mental gears. This is how Continue Online worked in conjunction with editing Royal Scales. This is also how writing Royal Scales worked during draft—while I was editing / reviewing the ‘Work Which Shall Not Be Named’
During that portion of reflection, I’m typically revisiting the questionable topics introduced in step two. For Royal Scales—this was Kahina and the memory messing theme. For continue Online, this was the dead wife slowly become a focal point – and trying to make that sane. For Lawless Ink, it’ll be our main character’s relationship with a childhood friend (and her trigger worthy backstory).
I reflect on this stuff—a lot. To use the balls analogy (I swear this one started with good intentions but now that my dirty mind has caffeine, I can’t read it without giggling)—I have a lot to juggle and move forward. There are a ton of details, but I’m in the guts of this book now. It’s got momentum but my fear of forking the ending bogs down my writing during the middle. There are tons of ways to play out the human social problems being inserted. Hell, I don’t want them to become a theme—but sure as heck, every single book has me inserting more than a few questionable topics and I really, really, have to reflect on how it all comes together sanely.
At this point, I reaffirm that the ending needs to be reached.
5. I move forward anyway after rewriting the start to be smoother. I rewrite parts in the middle too. This carries me until about the 60% mark. At 60% I face a new headache that slows down everything—and that’s the ending. THE ENDING. This part of the story is looming and my attempts at plot-wrangling need to bring things to the closing scene. My writing sprints end up turning into trench crawling exercises where I’m trying to dodge the land mines and explosions of ‘bad plot’ and ‘this doesn’t make sense’ and ‘your mom’ commentary.
- Current status: Being attacked by a drunken unicorn herd
- Weapons: A creaky keyboard
- Current action plan: Struggle until unconsciousness.
6. Progress slows down greatly. I meander from 60% to 70% then get lost editing. This has happened on every single novel because my steps as a writer get more careful. I spend more time looking at prior works and editing—I have weird dreams. Here’s where the serial up ‘update’ schedule starts to matter. I’m not writing this solely for me—I’m writing it for other people to enjoy a storyline.
- Rally the defenses: Progress is slow but ongoing
- Setbacks: Tripped over the balls I ignored a few steps ago
- Current action plan: Render myself unconscious instead of waiting —at least until a solution presents itself
7. The next step is usually me rethinking everything about the story. I often let it sit for a bit—a week or two. During this time my writing meanders—I try to keep the plot going forward but something hasn’t clicked. That mythical solution taunts me from the edge of sanity or at two AM in the morning. Since I have mental deadlines and serial formatting—I always feel like this part turns into filibuster. Sometimes this happens at the 60% mark, sometimes it happens at the 75% mark—and it’s a process I’m still learning to handle.
- Current action plan: Run for senate or drink more. Possibly both.
- Current equipment: Half a blanket
- Status: Aggravated with myself for not figuring it out quicker
8. At some point, it clicks. I figure out what I wanted to do—or I find a detail I missed in the prior writing. I work through the plot again and realize that there were aspects not considered. Sometimes this involves side characters, sometimes it involves plot elements added earlier that I’d somehow forgotten. My destination is on track and has been the entire time—only I didn’t know it. Maybe it’s simply a matter of making things work—but right around 85% done (Because I’ve been slowly working on content still—despite the confusion in step 7) the final part of my current book really comes together.
- Current action plan: Pretend I the writer version of Conan and smash the keyboard in order to hear the lamentation of its keys
9. Proceed to barf out the last 5%. Re-edit it. Screw up. Edit it again. Sigh heavily and realize it’s not 150% Rock Star but it is decent. Move on and chalk it up to another lesson learned.
- Current action plan: Do better next time. Darn it.
This isn’t a perfect explanation. Everything about has been generalized as an attempt to both be concise and humorous—including the dramatic reenactments. Writing isn’t the same for every story. Tone is important and I’ve worked hard to make sure no two works I write are completely alike.
Still, as ‘an author’ (which I guess I am now) stopping to reflect – it feels like these events are constantly happening with each work. Every book has most of the points listed above at different times—sometimes repeatedly or in cycles. For those I’ve completed and those I’m currently trying to finish—these challenges keep cropping up. Handling them hasn’t gotten easier despite having survived the process. Part of my own growth (and the reason for writing this ramble) is to recognize the challenges exist. Hopefully in doing so it’ll become easier to overcome these hurdles.
Writers out there—especially those who have written more than one book—do you ever feel the same sort of pressures? Do you have a pattern that each book follows? Have is changed between works?
Readers out there—have you noticed some of these issues in a writer’s book? Can you feel the struggle that authors have trying to make sense of the whole process? Do you notice a change between an author’s earlier works and later ones?
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.