My latest Work In Progress is coming up to the 20,000 word mark, which is around a fifth or sixth of where I would hope to be by the time I finish the whole thing.
And it’s starting to get tough.
I had this trouble with another book which is currently resting at about 24,000 words but needs to be totally torn down and restarted as I was having trouble with a passive protagonist. (another problem for another time)
So why do I have trouble with the 20,000 word mark?
I think it’s to do with the initial rush and the primer coat of planning that I paint on the story. If I had to place myself on the spectrum of a plotter vs a panster, or an architect vs a gardener then I would probably sit somewhere towards the planning side but not totally. I plan a the broad strokes of the story and the beginning parts and then let the seeds grow around the rest of it. Kind of like setting up the loose architecture of a garden sculpture and then letting the plants grow up around that and changing the structure if I need to.
By the time I reach the 20,000 word mark it seems like those initial sticks that I put down to help the plants grow around have reached their end and I need to start making some serious decisions and delving a bit deeper into my characters if the story-plant-monster is going to grow any more and keep itself looking pretty for the audience.
In that 20k I’ve zipped through the initial enthusiasm for the idea that got me writing in the first place and the story needs to stand up to scrutiny that isn’t just me saying ‘Isn’t this cool!?’.
But as I sat down with my thoughts yesterday I realised that this is a good thing, this is the test, this is the moment where you create something bigger than just a cool idea you’re turning the gee-whiz idea into the mortar of a book. So I had a bit of a think of where the story can go now and tried to consider some of the world-building that I hadn’t done before. Again, with the initial gee-whiz all I needed was ‘vikings’ I didn’t need to think about how closely I was going to come to history or what changes I wanted, but now that my wandering characters are starting to come into contact with other people I need to know these things.
It’s not unknown for writers to struggle once they get to the middle, mainly for the reasons I’ve said – you’re starting to break into totally new ground and the initial excitement has worn off to be replaced by the head-bashing keyboard smashing.
I think that it’s this moment that will start to properly test you as a writer and your story’s potential as a book rather than a cool idea.
And that’s kind of motivating, right?
This is the moment, this is the part where you get to prove you’ve got what it takes to be a real writer and not someone who has a mountain of first sentences and ideas that might never go anywhere.
Knowing that this is the point where I need to start really knuckling down is really useful. I know that if I start feeling a bit less enthusiastic about my work then it’s not necessarily that it’s because it’s a bad idea (although let’s be honest we shouldn’t rule that out) but just that now the real work has started.
I shall definitely be taking this forward as a positive thing and try to think about it as the first hurdle to turning this book into something that I’m working on as a hobby into something that can be shaped into a proper book, something that I could stand behind and put my name behind.