Sitting In A Moment Of Wonder

Well, how about that?  I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but somehow it does. I did it.  I finished The Nine, epilogue and all, which of course means that I’ve completed at least the first draft of the entire Mirrors of Bershan trilogy.  Wow. I still can’t believe I’ve done it.  It’s just so unprecedented in my life.

Let me see if I can explain this.  I’m normally very good at starting things.  I love beginnings and all the promise and hope they hold, and I’m not just talking about stories. I loved starting both high school and university. I love starting new jobs in some ways too, the stress of trying to be immediately perfect at them aside. I adore moving into a new apartment, however much I hate actually moving (that’s always a saga with me, trust me).  Everything is pristine and I haven’t screwed anything up yet. I’m energized by the newness and possibility of it all.

And then time passes and reality sets in.  Daily grind sets in. See? Even the language I use to describe it shows that I’m not much for middles. Historically, I rarely get through them.  I held my first job for just over 5 years, largely because I was going to school most of the time, so it wasn’t the big focus of my life. After that, I think I’ve topped out at a year and a half before I leave a job, and I usually want out long before then. We won’t discuss the number of stories I’ve started then lost track of/interest in/desire to continue during the middle.

I’m starting to think that this new phase of me finishing things is partly a change in me as a person on a deeper level. I’m making it through the middle of things.  I’m learning to let go of the day to day, the grind, to let it fade into a gestalt journey and embrace the parts that I enjoy, how to manage better with the things I don’t too.

Having finished a few novels now, and a whole trilogy, I’m realizing that finishing in and of itself was never the problem.  Every story has an end. One goes with every beginning. I have no problem with that idea, as much as I’m going to miss Tavis and Fay and all of the other characters I’ve come to know and love in these books. No, it was learning to keep focus and direction in the middle that I lacked, and looking back, I really think that it was lack of planning and sufficient thought that held me back.

Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but for me, excitement about an idea isn’t enough.  I need time to roll an idea around in my mind, to ask it questions, turn it over and around to see how it works. I have to ask myself over and over again, what else, what more, is that all, in order to get to the heart and soul of the story. If I start writing when I first get the idea, I haven’t done all of that.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, excitement and a vague idea will get me part way.  I can do a good 30-40k before I run out of that, based on past experience, but I still end up with some version of standing on a plain, lost without a path, and that means dead novel.

I’ve found the way to avoid that.  I’ll admit, planning wasn’t part of my original, well, plan on how I was going to go about being a writer.  From reading writers forums for years and blogs more recently, I think that it’s rarely part of any writer’s plan on how they’ll practice the craft.  It’s neither sexy nor exciting, but rather unpleasantly pragmatic if you’re the sort who feel like you should be discovering the story as part of writing it.  If that process works for you, then by all means, continue. But I know of more than a few people out there who have some of the same problems I used to, and not just the whole not-finishing issue, people who resolutely say that they cannot plan out their novel.  It’s all in the frame of mind though, I’m telling you.  I go through that whole discovery phase during the outline, which might be why I write it in an entirely linear fashion, beginning to end.  I discover there what comes next. That’s where I let my characters try to side-track the story before I herd them back on the path if it doesn’t seem to be working out. When a minor character jumps up and says “But I’m a supporting major character”, that’s where it happens and I take a good long look to see if they’re right.

I’m really not trying to proselytize here, to be the outline evangelist.  I understand that it doesn’t work for everyone. Anyone who has been reading this blog for long will know that I believe that everyone’s process will be unique, that you shouldn’t let any book, person, blog or article tell you that there’s only one way to be a successful writer (i.e. the kind that writes a whole story). What I do want to say is that if you’re having trouble finishing, or your not happy with the quality of your work and think you can produce a better first draft than you do, try something different.  Maybe you’ve been trying to be a pantser for years like I did and it’s not working for you, so you need the structured environment of an outline to help you figure out the whole story beforehand. Or maybe you’re the opposite, doing up great outlines and reams of notes but never actually writing the manuscript. In that case, maybe you need to just once try banging on the keyboard while the idea is fresh and burning in your brain, while your characters are still close and whispering in your ears, begging for their turn, their moment.  Just try something different, even small changes, if the same old way isn’t working for you, or isn’t working anymore, or just isn’t working for that idea.  I know we all have limited time and we don’t want to waste it on an idea or process that won’t work, but I’m living proof that it might work, however unlikely you think it is to do so. And think of all the time you’d be wasting banging your head into a wall that isn’t helping you.  Give it some serious thought if you’re having trouble and you think that maybe it’s process-related.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten all that out of my system (I honestly didn’t know that was in there until I started banging on the keyboard, I swear), I’ll throw out the final tally for you and the night’s picture. As you might well imagine, between the above and finishing The Nine, my brain’s like a wrung out sponge at the moment.  And yet it’s still trying to work on rewriting Bound already.  I swear, total glutton for punishment. That’s me.

The Nine has clocked in at 92,437 words, which makes it far and away my longest workable draft.  I am no longer going to count the first draft of Bound, because the thought of opening the document makes me cringe, since I vaguely remember how bad it was and how wrong I was about what the story was about.  Oh well, I learned a lot, both from writing that draft and from throwing it out to start over.  Those lessons are well worth the 107k words it cost me.  You may have noticed, I have no shortage of words to use.

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About Julie

I'm a writer and photographer. I always have something with me to take notes for ideas or writing projects I'm thinking about or have on the go. I also like to go around with my camera and take pictures of anything that strikes me as beautiful or evocative. I'm perpetually working on one story or another, while waiting for enough distance to judge the last one (or more). I'm always working on several projects at once, developing the next book, even as I'm editing the last. Beyond that, there's always plenty of scraps and twists of ideas rolling around in my head, eventually turning themselves into full blown stories.
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29 Responses to Sitting In A Moment Of Wonder

  1. Very proud of you, I know you have worked hard for this!

  2. Em says:

    Wow congrats! So proud of you, that’s an amazing accomplishment – trilogies often taken ‘established’ writers a number of years. And even if there is still a lot of work to do, having the foundation down will make the next steps that much easier.

    Also, I can’t wait to read all of it. 😛

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Em!

      It’s certainly a major accomplishment, to get this far, especially after so many years of accomplishing approximately squat.

      • Em says:

        I think it’s brilliant that you’ve found what one of the major issues was and can now work through it. And it certainly sounds as though you’ve grown a lot during this process both as a writer and overall.

        • Julie says:

          In more ways than I care to enumerate. I’m definitely sitting in the afterglow this morning. Or is that the pre-coffee haze? It’s hard to tell some days. 😀

  3. EXCELLENT! WAY TO GO JULIE! by the way, feel free to bring copies of number 2 for Em and I in May 😉

    • Julie says:

      Thanks SJ!

      Possession almost certainly won’t be ready then, but I have a plan brewing in the back of my mind regarding test copies in future that doesn’t involve giant boxes that require safety gear to accept. However, as I’ve said, I’m going to try to get through the edits for Bound and bring that in May. After that, we’ll see what I have time for. The trip isn’t that far off, after all.

  4. Pete Denton says:

    Well done, Julie. This is fantastic news. I’ve tried just writing a novel without planning and reached 20k and thought what the hell happens next?

    I’m now a planner and it looks like planning has helped write you a trilogy.

    Happy next drafting 🙂

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Pete. I think the next drafting is probably a couple months away. I have a full round of edits to do on all three books of this trilogy before I’ll be in the ballpark of starting writing on Necromantic. But I’ll get there.

      I’m glad you’ve found your own process though. It’s one of the harder parts of become a productive writer, in my opinion, finding the one that works for you in the midst of all the noise of other people trying to tell you how to do it.

  5. justjacqui2 says:

    Congratulations Julie! This is huge. You must be so proud. Can’t wait to read it!

    • Julie says:

      Thank! I’m definitely still having a moment this morning about this. Can you still call it a moment if it lasts this long? 🙂

      As for reading the trilogy, most of it is definitely not ready for publication, though I think I’m close with book 1, Bound. We’ll see how that goes.

  6. Celtic Forest Dweller says:

    Congratulations!!! That is wonderful! So proud of you, Julie! 😀

    And . . . HOW long did it take you to write a trilogy? Because . . . beyond amazing. O_O

    I remember when we were first talking on Nano and I was congratulating you on getting to 50k in less than three weeks. Now I’m surprised that I was surprised 🙂

    You’ve come a long way and I’m sure you’ll go much further!

    Good luck on those edits!

    • Julie says:

      Thanks!

      And I have to tell you, I was surprised by how fast I hit 50k on that first NaNo, but that was lack of experience. I’d only passed the 50k mark once in my life, and that 55k took me a month and a half, not writing every day though.

      As to your question about how long it took me to get drafts done of the entire trilogy, the nugget of an idea that started it all came to me in early October last year. I started writing the first draft obviously on Nov 1st. So now we’re talking about 6 months.

      You know, suddenly I realize how much work I’ve done. 😮

      • Celtic Forest Dweller says:

        Wow, that’s really amazing! Way less than a year even since the beginning of the idea.

        You HAVE done a lot of work! And I’m glad you realize that 🙂

        I think this is why people like your blog — you’re the kind of writer we all want to be, the kind that gets things done, that really loves her work, that writes so much every week, and is so immersed in her stories that she has to make herself stop to eat 😀 You’re an excellent role-model in that way, and if I would just start making myself start writing as often as you do, I might actually get something done 🙂 Keep it up, Julie! Rooting for you all the way!

  7. jmmcdowell says:

    Well, I’m still a pantser, but now that one book is back from an amazing beta reader, I will plan out the revisions before I dive in. But my pysche/characters/Muse have to go ahead and write away when the ideas come. Now that the real work is starting, I may have to twist their arms to get them to cooperate! But cooperate they will if the book is to be well-written and polished. 🙂

    Take a deep breath, let the recent work sit in a drawer for a while, and tackle your next task!

    • Julie says:

      As I said, if the process you have works for you, then stick with it. I just remember trying to fit myself into the pantser mode and it never working for me. It honestly took 4 or 5 dead novel attempts before I was willing to admit that maybe I needed to try outlining. I guess I’d like others to learn from my experience and not kill as many of their own ideas before admitting that what they’re trying to do isn’t working when they run into the same problems repeatedly.

      And trust me, The Nine is firmly in the drawer. I have work to do on Bound, then maybe another round on Possession before I even think about touching this one again. I’ll have plenty to keep me busy 😀

  8. Ottabelle says:

    I’m so proud of everything you’ve done and how you’re changing as a person in an interesting and good way. I’m happy I’ve been here for part of the journey and hope to be here for the rest.

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Amber. It’s definitely been a major six months in my life. I have days where I can hardly believe it was only that long ago that I started working on the trilogy. It seems even crazier when I realize how far the whole project has come from what I was working on in November for NaNo.

      And you are welcome to be around as long as you like. I’ve been enjoying watching you grow and learn and change as well, so I guess we’ll just stick together and keep watching and doing what we’re doing 🙂

  9. Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment.

    You are definitely not alone in the “start and not finish” history. Many people are plagued by this. I think that ideas are inspirational and in our heads they are perfect when born. But then when we start to follow through on the ideas, the process can be daunting and we second guess ourselves (question our ability, our sanity). Then the next new shiny inspirational idea hits and it looks a lot more attractive than the unfinished mess we’ve got in front of us. Which can only get unmessy if we follow through and spend the time to make it the best it can be.

    In any case, Well done!

    • Julie says:

      Thanks. And your description of shiny new idea full of perfect promise syndrome sounds so much like me for 16 of the last 17 years. The one major difference is that I don’t think I usually question my sanity, but that’s more to do with my lack thereof. 🙂 Questioning my ability, now that happens on a regular basis.

      In some ways, I find that finishing and seeing that the process can lead to the unmessy, the better-than-I-expected has helped. I’ve now seen that deviating from the original idea isn’t a bad thing, and can lead to better stories. I’m more than a little thrilled, and looking forward to doing it again with the Necromantic, once I’ve gone through a full round of edits on this trilogy.

      Never a dull moment, even when you finish, is there?

      • I gave a talk on creativity once titled “Creation is Messy.” It is! I get intimidated by rewrites . . . even though, historically, every piece of writing I’ve ever finished got better with each rewrite. It never fails. And every idea has deviated in some way from the original. That just happens as the stories unfold and we get to know our characters better.

        • Julie says:

          Oh yeah, that was Bound for me. I’m hoping that, if I do enough good hard thinking before I start writing book 1 of Necromantic, I won’t have to completely throw out the first draft and start over like I did with Bound. I don’t mind messy and I don’t mind rewrites, because I agree that things generally get better with those. But I prefer not to have to start back at square one if I can avoid it. If I’m rewriting, I would rather it was a chapter or a scene.

          And for some reason, the messy-ness of creativity has always appealed to me. I think that’s because I tend to think in all directions at once. I’m terribly non-linear in my thinking. 🙂

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