Top Ten Hardest Writing Things — and NaNo Debrief

I’m going to start this post with a little personal update. I said at the beginning of this NaNo that I was going to go for a stretch goal, but wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t quite make it.

Well, I had a slight hiccup at the beginning of the last week due to life taking a sudden and sharp left turn, but we all knew I wasn’t going to make that stretch goal anyway, so I’m genuinely just pleased I made it to the 50,000  words.

I also am willing to confess that I cheated.

Due to life taking a hard left turn, I ended up including some work writing in my wordcount goals, and also some writing on a personal project that wasn’t the one listed, because I a) needed to get some work done and adding wordcount to NaNo was a clever trick on my part to fabricate extra incentive, and b) I just really needed to do something that I could consider a ‘break’ and ‘not stressful’.

Do I think it matters that much? No, they’re still words I put on a page. I still wrote them. And for me, the whole point of NaNo is to have a reason to get more done than I otherwise would, and to test out new things. Therefore, working on other projects still accomplishes part 1.

Am I proud of this? Well, no, it would have been great to get more done on the actual project I wanted to work on at the beginning of November than I did, but that’s not how life worked out, and I’ll take what progress I can get. This was not my first preference, but it was better than “do no writing whatsoever”.

And now, the actual blog post.

This seemed appropriate for the first blog post after NaNoWriMo. It’s also going to be completely personal, since the hardest things will vary greatly from person to person.

So here, my completely personal, not objective in the slightest, list of the ten hardest things about writing, roughly in order from least hard to most hard.

 

  1. Starting again after a day off.

I generally, as a person, have the ability to remember things over relatively large stretches of time. For example, I can remember several things that happened to me during my high school years (and even, despite teenage me’s best efforts, some of the maths classes). I remember that, at the time of writing, it’s about time for me to organise to a) get some friends together for another gaming night, and b) that I have a deadline tomorrow that I should be working on instead of doing this. On average, though I realise that it is important for me to write things down to prevent slippages of memory, on average, I have a pretty good grasp on things.

So therefore, I am pretty sure I ought to be filing a bug report with someone on the amount of grief my brain gives me when I try to remember any details about the scene I was writing halfway through a mere 48 hours before. Suddenly, everything about the scene – character motivations, any dialogue that I’d thought of to write, even occasionally which characters are supposed to be participating in the scene.

The obvious answer to this is just “write that down too before you stop writing for the day”. But there’s a difference, it seems, between intellectually knowing what was going to happen and intuitively understanding what was going to happen because I can be perfectly aware even of the exact sentence I need to write next and still stare at the page blankly for an hour when I try to go back to it.

I don’t know what it is. I only know that I despise it.

 

  1. Missing Links.

There is nothing that kills my day’s writing faster than having just that one niggling doubt about something that’s going to happen. There are some continuity errors that I can just write down and tell myself I’ll fix in the edits. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

This is the moment when there’s a point A, also known as ‘you are here’, and there’s a point B, also known as ‘a point in very few scenes’ time which is vitally important to theme, storyline, and generally everything that I’m doing with this narrative and everything that this narrative needs to become’ and you just …

There’s something missing. Someone needs to have a conversation with a person but you neglected to even put them in the same city in the story in order for that to happen. I need a character to feel a certain way, but right now they have no earthly reason to. I just plain old have space to fill for pacing reasons and no idea how to make that happen.

Number 9 goes to all the times when I’m writing and I ask “what happens in the next scene?” and my brain returns a solid shrug.

 

  1. Tone switching.

It’s well documented that I am at a fundamental level averse to doing only one thing at a time. I tend to work specifically on one first draft at a time, for my own writing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also editing another draft I’m often taking breaks from drafts at the moment to edit future sections of The Ferryman’s Apprentice. This is also my work, so I’m often either working on editing or drafting something for other people as well.

These stories have different characters, with different character voices, and often a completely different tone to the story (not to mention when I’m writing for someone else, when I need to copy their writing style and tone, and I don’t get to make those decisions for myself).

What I’m saying is it’s a little bit like when you’ve been working as a receptionist or in customer service, and your friend calls you on the weekend and you answer with “Hello, you’ve reached [name] of [company], how can I help you today?”

And it’s annoying.

 

  1. The great, but also incredibly difficult to execute idea.

“Why don’t I turn these three very different and completely unrelated ideas into one overarching novel involving interdimensional travel?”

“Why shouldn’t these 12 main and secondary characters all be viewpoint characters?”

“What if I completely restructured this novel into four episodic seasons, effectively doubling the needed content and dramatically affecting the pacing?”

All of these things are very good ideas. I was quite happy with these ideas.

I’ve also spent countless hours staring at my keyboard and wondering what possessed me to think that I could make them actually work.

Still not quite sure if any of these have worked out (though the serial thing seems to not be raising too many eyebrows). So I guess the amount of effort I put in is worth it. Doesn’t stop it being difficult and annoying though.

 

  1. Just … words and language in general.

Who decided we should be able to write squiggles to communicate ideas? What were they thinking?

And why did we decide to make it so entirely difficult?

I don’t know. I don’t know why we chose to make this happen.

I don’t know why I chose to try and be good at it for money.

(Just joking. I love it. I just also like complaining on the Internet for entertainment value)

 

  1. Comparisons to other works.

I am absolutely one of those people that gets their ideas from other writing and other media in general. This also means there’s an excellent chance at any given moment that I am extremely conscious that my ideas are probably almost exactly like those other things that I’m stealing ideas from.

Now, no new ideas under the sun and all that, but there’s a limit. And often you don’t know exactly where that limit is until you finish a story and someone says “Dude, why’d you rip off Aragorn?”

That, unlike most of the other examples on this page, is not a personal example from my actual life, but only because my actual example was way more humiliating.

 

  1. Writing when just not feeling into it

I think a lot of people can relate to this one. Because of Point 1, I find I’m not one of the people who don’t write unless they’re feeling into it. It just makes me less likely to write in the long run. Unfortunately, I also run myself into the ground on a regular basis due to a combination of factors mostly just to do with who I am as a person, so often deadlines can mean just … writing after a long day of doing anything else when I’d much prefer to be sleeping. It means writing on days when it takes me three hours to write the first sentence because I’m staring at the screen and have genuinely briefly forgotten how grammar works.

Nobody likes to write in those times. Sometimes it’s physically impossible to write if your brain really won’t co-operate. The hard part is telling the difference between ‘impossible’ and a serious case of ‘I don’t wanna’, and making yourself write through the latter.

 

  1. The New and Shiny.

I have a pretty good system for dealing with this. I get a new plot idea, I write it down, then I let it go knowing that I can definitely come back to it later, and that usually gets it out of my head.

Except for those times that I write it down and then the process of doing that makes me think of new things and so on and so forth and then four hours later I still haven’t written anything but I’ve got pages and pages of worldbuilding notes for a story I can’t possibly find the time to write for at least two years, knowing my schedule.

But it was just so new!

And shiny!

 

  1. Lifestyle Research.

Confession time. I’m not really a ‘wiki walk’ person. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily spend hours reading through sources about cool topics, but usually when I’m writing I’ll just take a few minutes, find the information I need (verify it if I don’t trust the source) and then get back to writing.

So usually, that’s fine. I’m decent at Google, I know how to use the Boolean search and keywords, and roughly how to get as quickly as possible to the information I need. But really that only works if you need to know something like … a chemical that has a violent reaction to water on contact, or how certain drugs interact with each other, or the effects they have on humans, or when taxis first became common.

Lifestyle is far, far more difficult. You start asking questions about whether someone would have clothes in a particular style or colour, and suddenly Google can’t help and it’s a matter of either digging through primary sources or Google Scholaring your way through a whole lot of primary sources looking for journal entries in Middle English and sarcastic 1800s newspaper cartoons and you’re not sure what you should be taking from all this evidence, but you’re three hours in and man some of these letters are scandalous.

Fun fact about history: Historians love boring people because they’re the only people who wrote in their journals about which pot was traditionally used for the mustard, or the exact location of major trade partners of their country. Everybody else just assumed that was obvious and they didn’t need to record it.

Just joking. Nobody wrote down that trade partner and now nobody knows where it was. True story.

 

  1. The entire first draft.

And now the thing that hurts me most about writing.

It’s the entire first draft.

I really, really like editing. I honestly do. I like taking something and identifying problems and then fixing them. It’s a puzzle.

The first draft is not a puzzle. The first draft is not fixing problems. The first draft is putting all the problems in a sequence to begin with.

It’s not even that the first draft usually has so many problems that annoys me. Well there’s that. And it just takes so much longer than editing. It’s so much more work, overall. I always just wish I could have it done already so I can start fixing it all.

 

But that’s just my list. Agree with me? Disagree with me? Did I miss something glaringly obvious? Time to share NaNo woes in the comments and commiserate with each other.

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