I have not written any of Tallulah since Christmas Eve. And to be perfectly honesty, I’m okay with this.

Once I had that big revelation thingy about how much importance I put on the finishing of this draft by the end of the year, it occurred to me that I actually wasn’t that fussed about reaching the deadline, because the deadline no longer existed. And while this lessening of pressure has  de-motivated me, it’s also given me time to recalibrate and have the myriad elements of the story that have yet to fall into place to gently slosh around in my mind without having to freak out about it – so once I get back to writing I’ll have a renewed perspective and probably blitz through it.

There is a lot yet to happen, and that’s the main thing I’m realising; not in terms of key moments, because there are like three of those left and I know what they are, but as always it’s the little things that matter, and it’s always the bridging process that trips me up – yes, you can just write the key moments by themselves, but then you’re not exploring anything, and if you don’t explore, your story won’t grow. and also it won’t feel like a story, because it’ll just be a bunch of stuff happening in a relatively arbitrary sequence. it is the prospect of this bridging act that is freaking me out the most, so while I’m taking the thought-sloshing that comes as a result as a positive, not knowing what I’m going to end up writing in order to link these scenes together – because I never know, because I honestly don’t have any clue what should be done – that is really hard to get past.

and this is really what keeps me from writing most of the time; it’s not that I don’t know ‘what happens next’, it’s that I don’t know ‘how to get there’, and it’s actually what leads to me writing as much filler as I do. which is just a more focused and specific way of stating a problem that I’ve always had, with every draft I’ve written for a story, but that’s important, because now I realise that it’s not actually just that I ‘don’t know how to get there’ – it’s that the ‘bridges’ actually require just as much planning as the key moments, because they are what holds a story, which is ostensibly about the key moments, together, and actually makes it into a story.

it means that actually filler is not a bad thing.

in a first draft.

because ‘filler’ is simply what happens when I try to do this whole ‘bridging’ thing without having any specific idea of what needs to happen, of what needs to cross the bridge, if you will – of how to transport which elements of the previous key moment over to the next, and how that transition tells part of the story. ‘filler’ represents an effort to provide a smooth transition; filler is therefore not something to freak out about – it’s something to learn from, and not just to the point of ‘don’t do it’, because you can’t just take it out and expect the story to work, and that is something that I’ve never thought of. SOMETHING needs to go there, and you know that intuitively as a writer, and when you don’t have anything except for that intuition, no specifics of what exactly needs to ‘go there’, you get this ugly, random, unpredictable, uncomfortable, often distracting and aimless and amorphous goop that we call ‘filler’, because the story needs that space, that vacuum between its key moments, to be plugged up – and it needs to be plugged up with storytelling. filler is what happens when parts of your story are missing; and rather than just resolving to take the filler out, I’ve realised that I need to actually start becoming aware of why it’s there in the first place, and what it is that makes sense to go there in order for the story to be a story. filler is what comes about as a result of having the right intention, and simply lacking in an appropriate solution.

I, like most people I guess, don’t remember a story for the specificity of how each key moment is threaded together; I remember the key moments, and I remember other moments that stood out, and I remember whether or not I thought the story had good pacing or a consistent tone, and that is all symptomatic of this ‘bridging’ thing – it’s the transition from one narrative hub to the next, and if it doesn’t make sense, then when you get to the next one, that won’t make sense, either – if you never cross the bridge, then it makes no sense to suddenly be on the other side.

it means that I have a lot more work to do.

and that’s exciting, actually, because it’s work that I’ve been made aware of by learning something new about how to tell a good story. it feels like I’m getting somewhere.

not a bad way to wrap up my year of writing. well, six months of writing; but as a whole, this year has been the most generative and educational in terms of my writing skill that I’ve ever had. there have been years when I’ve written more words more consistently, but never when I’ve learnt more about how I tell a story, about what I focus on and where my blind-spots are. 

writing about writing, it turns out, is really useful.

Have a good one, gentle readers – I have no idea who it is that reads this blog, but thanks whoever you are – and I hope you have plenty of stories to tell in the coming year.



So I have taken 2 days off of writing Tallulah because without being able to write at the university general library makes it much harder to block out everything that typically distracts me from writing. Also because what I have to write next …

It’s not just difficult: the entire story depends on me getting it exactly right. and that is not a cool experience for somebody writing a first draft. It’s not a scene that I have particularly well worked-out in my mind, and it’s between two of the characters I’m the least confident writing for: Tallulah, which is poetic injustice, seeing as she’s my main character and the entire story is from her point of view, and her mother, Sinead, who shows up in person at the very start of the book and only features from that point on in flashbacks and weird hallucination things that I’ll probably get rid of in the next draft because they seem silly to me right now.

I know Sinead’s story, and her relationship to Tallulah, but I do not know how to write her properly. I do not have the articulation to bring her character into the story after having only hinted at her existence and personality up until this point. I don’t know her motivations, and feel that they should be pretty straightforward, not just because I’m the one who invented her, but because it’s also nothing particularly original even in my mind.

And I mean writing about how difficult I’m finding it is all very well, and it’ll probably help me to work it out, but every time I run into a problem that it feels like I, as the writer, should not be having, such as understanding my own freaking characters, it reminds me just how far in over my head I am with this particular story, and how I’ve just kind of thrown myself into this project without what I would consider to be appropriate preparation. It’s embarrassing to find myself coming up short, and the entire premise of the story feels so much weaker to me when I – 

I mean I know what has to happen, in the general sense; I know the narrative notes that I want to hit, and I know the general sort of effect I’m going for … it’s just very general. that’s the issue; it’s very general and not very specific, and that is an issue with a lot of my writing, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve only ever written first drafts and have never experienced anything past this experimental phase or if it’s actually just a massive gaping hole in my repertoire of writing skills that I’m only now finally coming to see the full extent of, but it locks me up, because I ‘don’t know what to do’, and admitting that means that I don’t know what I want to write, which I feel should not be the case, and perhaps isn’t actually the case, because I’ve written something like a story up to this point.

I don’t know if I ought to have had more of a clear idea of the story I was going to try and tell, a better sense of the characters and their motivations, from the outset, or if this is, again, fairly common. and I don’t know how much of this anxiety is tied up in being very zoomed-in with this draft and getting more and more perfectionist as I draw closer and closer to the end, because I want this sense of accomplishment by the end of it.

And I know that it’s kind of silly to put so much pressure on myself to make things ‘work’ when it’s just a first draft, in the sense that I’m freaking myself out to the point where I’m literally not writing the draft, because as I keep saying I can change anything, everything, in later drafts, and nothing I write now has to be permanent or ‘official’ or ‘canon’ or whatever.

I’m getting bogged down in particulars. for instance: when Sinead shows up, what would she say? what’s a really quintessential Sinead thing for her to say or do? what little gestures would she make to subtly show how she’s feeling? how can I convey all of this depth of character and make it seem like I’ve worked everything out and have a really good grasp on all of these characters and show off how awesome I am?

because I know the general stuff. I know how she generally feels about this situation, why she’s there, what she’s hoping to get out of it, and the same for Tallulah – but none of it feels very real to me, like I understand the realistic implications of this situation, and really I don’t think that’s very surprising, because this is not something that has ever happened to me before. my parents are still together and have never broken up that I know of; I’ve never been an estranged parent who’s tried to come back without being ready to accept or listen to what my family need to say to me about how it made them feel, what it meant to them, anything like that – I’m literally making it up as I go along and hoping that my guesswork is accurate enough to pull it off. 

and I’ve written how many posts now about how it’s just a first draft and nothing is set in stone and there is literally no purpose, no justification, nothing at stake that ought to make me freak out to this degree, and how it’s just slowing me down and it all just makes me feel like a really useless person.

I think I actually have to give up on feeling any sense of accomplishment with this draft. I think that is the problem. too much is riding now on achieving that goal, of having the sense that I’ve crafted the skeleton of this masterpiece that I want this story to be that is in itself a masterpiece, of having it all go exactly how I think it should go, with all the certainty and surety and sense of effortlessness that I think I am owed simply by virtue of being the person who came up with this story.

I did come up with this story. but I did not think it all the way through. and as such, I cannot take credit for doing so.

That makes sense.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it is? I mean no. It’s not. it’s a draft; it’s a figuring-it-out process, the first stage in a figuring-it-out process; this is an attempt not to write a story, but to see if there is a story to be crafted from the ideas that I have for one, if there is some sort of thread that would hold a story together, and I’ve blown it up into this huge mission to achieve artistic greatness and my sense of satisfaction with my work is riding on whether or not this final stage of the draft is really well-written and thought-provoking and poignant and true to life and all of this other stuff, and simply going for a test-drive will not cut it, because I’ve spent six months doing this and it’s the end of the year and things are meant to wrap up at the end of the year and wow I’m actually amazing. I am actually so freaking amazing to have driven myself to the point of an emotional breakdown over a first draft.

I think literally right now I understand what a first draft is meant to be, what it is appropriate to expect it to be, rather than just saying that I do all the time.

as hard as it is, as long as it takes, as much effort and time and pain and anxiety and self-doubt and excitement and just all around drama goes into writing it … it ultimately amounts to nothing more than a scribble.

this is a 100k-word doodle. this is what the picture looks like before you pick up your eraser and clear away the messy bits and start to understand why the wonky bits don’t look right and what you can do with them to improve it, and then oh hey wouldn’t it be cool if you put this thing here and made this part a bit bigger, shade it in a bit more, and yeah actually that idea you had a while ago actually works really well in this bit over here …

that’s all it is. it’s … a draft. a first draft …

is a first draft.


absolute freaking genius.

hey, better late than never, right?

yeah. it is stupid to expect too much of yourself, and I know that I do that to myself over and over again, and have done so for such a very long time. I hate thinking of myself as not being able to get things that only involve me and my effort and my own standards and ideas and motivation absolutely right the first time around. I have this idea that that’s actually impossible; how can you get your own ideas wrong?

but it’s not about that, I realise. I’ve gotten all of my ideas right. it’s just that all of my ideas are not enough to fill up an entire story to the level of depth and detail that I want.

what all of my ideas do add up to is a bunch of story-seeds. starting-points. concepts to be tested and revised and then – well, that bit hasn’t actually come yet.

and it’s taken so long to just do that, and I guess like most people I equate time spent with the level of quality to be expected from the endeavour, in some arbitrary and uncritical way that does not take into account exactly what it is that the time and effort is going into, what is fueling it; a good chunk of my writing has been padding, for instance, and that took a good long time to do, and I think I’ve written about three times slower than I wanted to and could have because I didn’t have ideas to connect everything that I wanted to happen together and I had to improvise and just pull something out of thin air that would do the job of bridging all these things together until I could find some better way to do it.

what I’ve put my time and effort and hopes into amounts to training-wheels, and it doesn’t feel right. it doesn’t feel like enough for what I’ve put in, because again, it has taken so long to do, and I just have stupidly, neurotically high expectations for myself. 

but you do need training wheels. you do need to learn the alphabet before you can spell. you do need to learn to speak before you can talk. you do need to understand your limits before you can increase them. and time is not indicative of effort, or quality, or understanding; it is indicative of the passage of time.

this is really sobering. and kind of a downer.

but a good kind of downer, if there is such a thing. because I now actually don’t have the heart to expect as much as I did of myself up to ten minutes ago. it’s not worth it.

not yet. not at this stage. at this stage, ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough.

that’s actually very …


all right. time to churn this thing like butter. which I have never done before. Maybe I’ll add that to my list of Things To Do With My Life.

wow. writing about your problems really does work.

and just to be clear, I think still that having high expectations of yourself is fine. having standards is a good thing. but you must, must make sure that they don’t get in the way of you doing your very important work, your baby-steps, your first drafts, your lots of time spent on doing something that your standards turn their noses up at because, let’s face it, they’re assholes sometimes, otherwise you’ll never recognise what it is that you’ve really accomplished, and that would be an indescribable shame, because every accomplishment is something to remember, to acknowledge, to recognise for what it is: an accomplishment, something that you have now done that, until now, you had not. growth. however small in the grand scheme of things, it is still something that you have accomplished. and if you don’t take the time to acknowledge it, I feel that you probably won’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, and if that were me I would give up.

so don’t give up, and don’t give yourself an excuse to. I’m sure we all know at least one person who would be happy to do that for us if given the chance, so don’t do their work for them. accept that the little things are little, even when they take forever to get done, because then you can appreciate them as little things, instead of trying to insist that they be something they can’t, and shouldn’t, and that even though that is the case, you still need them. 

and you still have them.

and now, I seriously need to finish this draft. I think I will enjoy it.

Just wanted to share …


Yeah so there’s a reason you’re not supposed to re-read your stuff until AFTER the writing is finished; it’s so that you don’t break your flow and ruin your momentum. 

And seriously, in the end I’m just going to go back and re-read the whole thing anyway, it’s not like if I don’t take this chance right now I’ll never get another one …

I guess I’m just conditioned to seek immediate gratification, only in this case ‘gratification’ means ‘confirming that all of my cripping self-doubt is actually warranted because my first draft is not a flawless masterpiece’. 

I believe I spoke about pragmatism, and how good it is. I need to go back and read that one, it seems.

but at the same time, I doubt everybody has the discipline necessary to NEVER look back, and the important thing is not to avoid it altogether – just to do it at the appropriate time. and if, like me, you can’t help but replicate the efforts of Orpheus, it’s important to not beat yourself up about it, because you’re not turning anybody into salt – you’re just looking back instead of going forward, and the worst crime that has been committed is slowing down your own process of getting things done. it’s fairly harmless.

I mean so what if I sacrificed the integrity of a character that I really like specifically because they have a lot of integrity just so that I could shoehorn in a dramatic moment for the main character? I can change it later! it’s not like the moment is bad; yes it plays out like the very corniest and heavy-handed of teen dramas, but there’s no reason that I can’t salvage it later, and in fact the whole point of drafting is that I will go back and salvage it later.

I honestly don’t know if this is a problem that is fairly rare amongst writers, the whole ‘can’t not look’ thing combined with ‘must validate self-doubt to prove that self-sabotage is the right thing to do because all of my efforts are shameful to begin with’ urges, but this isn’t just about writing. this is a lifestyle choice; this is a philosophy. this is a martial freaking art.

yes, I could go back and change it right now and insulate my ego.


I could let it sit, and get used to not needing my ego insulated to begin with. because at the end of the day, this particular instance of disappointment with myself is … pointless. worrying about it now is pointless. worrying about it if it happens to still be in the final copy after it’s been printed and published and distributed to stores for selling – that has some purpose to it. but anything before that is …

yeah. it’s a skill, getting used to transitioning an immediate worry and sense of failure to looking forward to how you can apply what you’ve learnt in the long-term, when you get your next chance. And I guess that’s part of it, too; in many other aspects of life we don’t get many second chances, because more often than not we need people to give them to us. but if it’s all up to you, rather than some other person, then … well, it’s all up to you. 

This isn’t even a mistake, this bad chapter that I’ve written, because nothing ‘wrong’ has been done. there is no consequence of note that come about as a result of this chapter having been written, and certainly not a moral one. so I feel like the anxiety I’m feeling is my mind trying to re-enact a scenario where feeling like I’ve made a mistake would make sense – if there was actually anything at stake for making a mistake to begin with, because that’s what my brain is used to doing.

honestly, even if just for being able to realise things like this, writing this draft has been more than worth it. 

I kind of can’t wait to see what happens with the next one.

Closing Time

Man, I remember when Semisonic had songs on the radio. I remember when I used to do Chemistry lessons (like 4 of them, where the dude teaching it was really nice but very anti-swearing and poor 14-year-old me had a rather hard time keeping himself under control) (on the plus side the other two students were girls) and literally every single freaking time I was in the car on the way there the song Chemistry would play. it was uncanny.

Today I was at my old work (old and only) for an end-of-year lunch celebration wrap-up thingy and it was really nice seeing everyone again. it does not feel like a whole year since I was out knocking on doors and doing interviews on what people thought about living in the Glen Innes community and what they would like to see changed about it, and I felt like I might possibly be helping to make a positive difference in a part of the world that needed it. while getting paid. minimum wage, but still, I was getting paid it.

But anyway, it got me feeling all Christmassy and I wished that I was writing Mark and Jessie again. I think it could turn out to be quite a good story if I took the time to work it out. 

As it stands, I’ve missed the last deadline that I set myself for finishing Tallulah, because it turns out that I underestimated how long what has yet to happen is going to take. I only just broke the 100k word-limit though, so I’ve got some space to play with. and in any case, the word-limit is gone now; it’s just a case of writing the thing all the way through.

What’s got me stuck – it’s always something – is trying to broker a deal between the side of me that thinks he knows what he’s going to change in the next draft and wants to write the ending to fit in with that just to save some time when that next draft comes around, and the side of me that can’t do that without freaking out about the continuity of this current draft and how it will be ruined and, upon going back and reading it over, it will not feel like a coherent story, and the important thing about that is that it won’t feel like I’ve accomplished something, because I won’t have told a story that makes sense.

this second part also wonders if the thing that is going to be changed might actually work fine if it’s left in. I tend to think not, but having left it unchanged for this draft has given me some interesting ideas about how to end this particular incarnation of the story. but, again, it’s the first draft version of the story, and I don’t have to settle for it.

I guess the obvious thing to do is just write it both ways. in a sense. but I’d be writing it both ways in the end anyway if I don’t go against the existing continuity this time around, so I’d be doubling-up in the long run. 

except that I really don’t want to miss out on any more opportunities with this draft than I already have. to be fair, a lot of the things that I left out this time around almost certainly would not have worked, just given the tone of the story, but these two endings – different to the original two endings I was going to write – both work. it’s just that this is a clash of short-term and long-term planning, and an issue of gratification. if I write both endings, then that’s going to take up more time than I want it to, because I want to finish this draft before the end of the year, and I can certainly achieve that. if I only write one, then I have to decide which one.

And the strategy that comes to mind is a useful one for any problem like this, a problem of choice that gets you stuck: choose one, and see how it feels. and I mean actually choose it;  earnestly decide that it’s what you’re going to do. even start doing it if you have to, just to make it official. and see how it feels. every time I’ve done it, it’s presented me with the obvious answer – the one that I feel better about.

being flexible is not really about sitting around and contemplating possible futures; it’s about being able to change your mind once you’ve committed to a decision and not have it be some huge deal where your integrity and honour are sacrificed in the process. people change their minds all the time; it’s called learning. and again, if it’s a decision that affects other people and you’re responsible for them then the decision can’t really only be up to how it makes you feel, but in cases like this, where it’s a self-directed project and you are your own boss and your own dependent, then you can most certainly have the decision be all up to you, and in fact if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t be your project, and it would cease to be personal to you.

I thought that this draft was essentially finished about a week ago, because it seemed so obvious what was left to happen, and all I had to do was put it down in words. it turns out that this is not the case if I want to set myself up with a good foundation in terms of a story and a cohesive narrative, or as cohesive as a first draft written by me at this point in my writing experiences can be. 

and in the end, I think I would rather tell as good of a story as I can with the materials available to me than try to predict the story I’ll want to tell in the future, and in doing so, just hope that instead of feeling like I’m shutting myself down or cutting myself off, that instead I am opening something up.

only one way to find out.


It’s here. The deadline for finishing this draft. 

There is no way in the nine hells this is happening on this day.

But you know what? that’s fine. It doesn’t have to. the point is that I am very close to the end, and that I’ve written the story to this point – there is nowhere to go but forward from here, nothing to do but finish the story and conclude this first huge step in the process of completing this act of storytelling.

I will, of course, write today – I’ll try to write a lot today, because things are getting very tense story-wise and character-wise, as they should in the third act – and while I do feel that it’ll end up being a lot longer than 120k words at the end, that’s fine, because again, it’s a first draft, and there is so much padding that a word-count is, I now officially declare, utterly meaningless in terms of trying to judge what one has accomplished by writing said words, because, again, this is a first draft. this is a mess; this is freewriting with structure, and trying to make myself work within schedules and boundaries that I have imposed upon myself and can – and must – change in order to facilitate the evolution of what it is that I’m writing, and what it is that I’m doing by writing, which is far more than just telling a story. it’s also learning, conditioning, developing habits; this is a very full process, and that’s good. it generates so much more than its basic premise suggests it would. it is an education, and it is the kind of education you can only get from your own hard work, your own self-set goals and rituals and compromises and strategies. 

It is absolutely wonderful, and if you want to write a book, the first thing you have to do is write it. 

and the second thing you have to do is write it.

and the third thing. and so on and so forth until, at last, the writing ends, because it can. and then, if you feel the urge, it starts again, because it can also do that.

All right I’m getting all artsy here; my point is that deadline or no this thing is most definitely getting done, and that makes me very happy, and very proud and grateful that I set out to do this thing in the first place, and that’s something that I very selfishly want for everybody else in the world, especially those who aren’t sure if they can – there’s only one way to find out.

Drama-Lama Ding-Dong

Yesterday I had an interesting (read: agonising) experience after doing a rather too-intense workout and came to realise that I needed to respect the boundaries of my body and came to a momentary sense of oneness encapsulating my entire being wherein I stopped being so hard on myself and just chilled. because otherwise I would have a little panic attack thing due to blood being concentrated awkwardly in areas of my body.

One such effect of this was how it made me think about this draft. This afternoon I’m right back to perfectionist mode, but I’m wondering if that’s appropriate.

It’s like the realisation that I came to about what I wanted to happen in the story versus the reality of writing those scenes in regards to how the characters reacted – I was having one of those moments the other day, but for me rather than my characters. it was something that I felt would be cool if I did put it in the story and pulled it off – but not necessary to include. it’s what I’d call a ‘flavour moment’, something that could work, certainly, but one that doesn’t have to.

and again, being a first draft I want to take advantage of the opportunity to just play around and explore everything that I can, but I am coming to feel that a lot of the stuff that I want to include is actually just playing around, rather than storytelling. which is good to learn, certainly.

I think it’s the difference between ‘story’ and ‘drama’ (yes, there is an actual reason for this post’s title); drama is important to push a story forward and make it interesting, but only in combination with meaningful events in the story. on its own – well, it’s just drama, and that’s something that I know I certainly get very sick of very fast in real life, and bores me while reading/watching something for entertainment purposes: drama for the sake of drama, without any real story. it’s the reason I stopped watching TV about five years ago and never really came back to it, because that seemed to be the direction in which all TV shows were going – dramatic padding over meaningful drama that adds to the story.

the particular scene I’m working with right now does have a little to do with the story, but again, it’s not necessary – it’s just that I’ve found a way to incorporate it, and decided to do so. this scene does not need to exist as far as making the story a good one is concerned, but it can. possibly. because I feel like I’m wasting time by writing it, and again, it makes me wish I was doing a full re-write right about now. and also possibly switching to an episodic format, because it’s much easier to cut big projects into segments, mini-goals, whatever, in order to get a clearer focus on each important aspect. plus you can theme episodes. not that you can’t theme chapters, but the mental framework is already there if you call it an ‘episode’, so I may as well go with what makes sense …

Yeah. drafting is very educational, I’ll say that. and again, with the emotional upheaval that was last night’s exercise routine trying to pick up right where I left off after a month of not doing any how smart am I, I theorise that prioritising what’s important, rather than what’s possible, is the way to go. 

then again, now that I’m not freaking out, there’s no reason not to experiment a bit. but for this scene at least, I think I know what the test results are already.

Possible Things

During the process of writing this draft, I’ve had a lot of setbacks, a lot of blocks, obstacles and anxieties that have stoppered up my word-producing flow. One of them has been the word-limit, which I imposed upon myself because I thought that pressure of that kind – an arbitrary restriction on what I was allowed to do with my work – would make me more creative, provide me with an impetus to solve problems that I would run into if I was allowed free reign and could write into infinity, and also so that I would not, in fact, write into infinity, and that the draft would have a cut-off point that was not a date in time, because judging my working-to-schedule habits from university study, I assumed that this approach would be a bad one to rely on.

And the word-limit has helped. It has made me conscious of how long the draft is, what has happened in it compared to what I wanted to happen in it at the outset, and as a result of that I’ve also learnt that my initial intentions did not take into account the reality of writing each scenario, what impact that would have on the story, the characters, and me as the one writing all of it and striving for a sense of the believable without sacrificing a sense of the folkloric and fantastic. It’s given me a framework within which several areas of awareness have arisen, and I’m glad that it did.

And now that I’m almost at the end of the draft, story-wise, I don’t know whether my choking nerves have been roused by the fact that it’s almost over and I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to, the fact that I am habitually conditioned to get really resentful in the face of time-pressure and procrastinate as a form of adolescent defiance towards ‘structure’, or because I just don’t want to stop writing.

I don’t know that I’ve used this limitation as effectively as I could have. And that’s something that I think I didn’t take advantage of: using limitations as tools, rather than restraints.

A word limit for a novel is going to be fairly big. I started out with 80k, which I have just recently surpassed, with less than two thirds of the story that I had in mind actually told. That’s not a number that you can easily sit down and plan out your usage of. something like 2k or 3k, something like a university assignment; I’m used to that. that’s around about the length of a single chapter of this draft. it does not take very long to write 2-3k words, to use them up, to plan out how best to use them. 80k is almost limitless in comparison, to me anyway; I have no efficient way to gauge how much story can get told within 80k words, and therefore no clear method of approaching it in terms of planning it out. that gets done by writing the words, and only afterwards going back and seeing where they all went.

And to be fair, that’s what I did with essays as well – essays just get written a lot quicker than a novel, and so the feedback on word-consumption is far more immediate and less of an abstract notion of ‘completion’ of the writing process. 80k words, in comparison to one of my essays, may as well be 800k, for all the clarity it will bring me of how best to use them all.

But … as I’ve said before, a word-limit seems stupid in the context of writing a first draft. And having used one, I don’t think that that’s necessarily true – I just think that I didn’t know how to use it, again, as a tool, as something to guide and inform my writing, because there was no way I could know how without trying it first. so having done it, having learnt from it, this is now my opinion:

A word-limit, if you work well with word-counts from experience, is just as useful as any other arbitrary limitation to your writing, and I do think that those are important, because nothing gets your mind ticking like limits. they do not produce incentive to write – in fact, they do the opposite, as you might imagine – so they will not substitute the desire to write in the first place, and that must come from … well, wherever it comes from. if you don’t want to write, then all the fancy psychological pressure-appliers you can conceive of are just going to drive you further away from the task. assuming that you do want to write, however, these kinds of limits and restrictions begin to lend you the advantage of being aware of your work, of keeping track of it (which is also invaluable, so keep a record of your progress like a wall-planner or a diary or both), and that is perhaps the most useful tool you can have as a writer: a record of your progress. it’s the same reason I say to take notes, all the time, perhaps especially when you’re in the middle of writing a big emotional scene (though let your intuition tell you whether to just write it through or write down your brilliant ideas, depending on how your momentum is; sometimes you’ll have it for both at once): because if you have that record, you will understand what your work and effort is accomplishing, have it immediately reflected back at you for evaluation, and that is exactly what you need for drafting.

So a word-limit is not good because it makes you write cleverer scenes or anything; it’s useful because it reminds you how how much work and time and mass has gone into producing and containing whatever it is that you’ve written so far. and if you’re afraid to look, then you especially need it; it’s not something to shame yourself with, it’s like checking how much space is left on your hard-drive – you can be free to do it without that kind of self-judgment, and just check. if you’re doing something creative, of your own volition, then shame has no place in anything that you do, because nobody else is involved, and shame is a social emotion. this space is yours and yours alone; enjoy it, and allow yourself to take advantage of not having anybody else’s input to react to. I’m not telling you to shut yourself off from the world and other people, just that we can sometimes feel the need to be ashamed of ourselves, and that’s an awareness of space. that’s why I think showing a first draft to other people is an exercise in futility; you want the clarity and openness to be able to reflect upon your work privately, because in the end it is your work – to begin with. eventually you will actually want feedback and all of that other stuff that makes a good story, but for this first step, maintaining the privacy of the specifics of your product is what you want. that’s my experience anyway. though telling people about what you’re doing is equally helpful, in different ways.

Well. That was … something. 

Back to word-limits – I would say that they have been a useful tool for me, and therefore I would suggest trying them out – with the proviso that you are allowed to change it at any time.

Which is what I think I’m going to do now; within the context of having used one right up until now, so for the past six months or thereabouts, I am now doing away with a word-limit altogether, and instead instating a time-limit, because I know I’m so close to the end, and that I want this ending to work, that counting words is not going to help. I have until the 20th to get this thing done, no matter how many – or few – words it takes.

And in the end, my word-limiting was connected to the idea that I wanted to finish this draft by a certain date. granted, that date was three months ago, but that’s life; that’s experience. that’s learning what works, and if you’ve kept a record of it, then the lesson is all the more effective at teaching you what you’re looking to learn: what you have accomplished, and how, and what you have given yourself to build on in the future.

So that’s that. now it’s just down to writing; and if I didn’t want to write as badly as I do then this removal of the word-limit and going for a time-limit would be silly for me to do, because time-limits do not work very well for me. I tend to do all the work at the very last minute, so in this case, when it is the last minute anyway, it’s pretty safe for me to let go of this particular restraint. it’s important to accept these things about yourself; your own peculiarities are also  limitations and restrictions, and therefore they are also tools and opportunities. take advantage of them; you get them for free.

And with that, the story draws to a close. it’s exciting, as it should be.

Let’s see how it goes.