Saturday, 7 January 2012

Getting to The End

I haven’t been one for doling out the writing advice on this blog, not least for the reason there are lots of people out there much better at than me.

However, there’s one thing I’ve been asked a lot recently and I thought it might be fun to get a wee discussion going.

Lots of people start writing a novel. Lots of people don’t get very far writing a novel. (Some cruel people might argue that too many people do, but that’s for another blog.)

The people that struggle to finish might ask, how do you maintain the effort required to get to those two little words: The End?

But if it’s something that you have done for years now and it’s something that you just do, you often don’t know how to answer.  Although “Blood Tears” will be my first published novel, it was the 3rd to be written – and I have now written a further 3, so experience tells me I can go all the way.

I compare this to when I go swimming. As a part of my (off and on) fitness regime I swim a mile once or twice a week. The first 20 lengths of the pool are the WORST. I’m all heavy-limbs and aching joints and an internal moan that goes – whyareyoudoingthisthisissfeckingawfulstopnow. Then because experience tells me I can go the distance, I get past the hump, get into my rhythm and before you know it the last touch down is looming.

When writing a novel, there is always a hump. I’m a pantser – I’ve set the characters in place, the story is unravelling and I hit a wall. “Where the feck am I going to go now?” plays on a loop in my head.

What do I do? 

I keep on writing. 

Experience tells me I am capable of finishing and it also allows me to trust that my sub-conscious (or as Stephen King calls it – the boys on the boiler room) is working on a solution. I keep at it. I keep showing up at the coal-face and then, one day, it all falls into place like a grand, DAH-DAH! (I swear the sun always comes out and the birds set up an orchestral movement right at this very moment.)

So how does that help the first-timer, you ask while wagging a finger at your screen?

Don’t know, he smiles wickedly.

What I will say is that if you are serious about writing you will need to develop a mindset of persistence. Get your arse on the chair – your fingers on the keys – and get on a programme of writing activity, because this work of art/ bestseller/ piece of crap/ work of genius/ wouldn’t wipe my backside with this nonsense – and yes, that’s how my brain considers each of my novels during the writing process -  isn’t going to write itself.

And if you get to The Hump and you trust in your characters, the world you’re creating and your story, keep coming back to them because they hold all the answers.

Do you remember the first time? (Writing a book, silly.) How did you keep at it?


  1. I greatly admire anyone who can write a book, let alone get it published!

  2. For me the hump is always the first few chapters. If I can just get it going, I know I'll finish.

  3. I think I only just got past the "whyareyoudoingthisthisissfeckingawfulstopnow" phase of my current novel. I'm a pantser too, so sometimes it feels like all I've done is write myself into a corner, but like you said my sub-conscious really does love me and wants to protect me from killing myself, so it finds a solution.

    It took me about four tries before I finally finished a novel. I've only finished two since then, but I'm pretty certain I'll finish the one I'm working on now. I think it's partly mechanics (figuring out story structure and how to make all those crazy ideas conform to it) and partly determination that gets you to the last page.

    Of course, then you get to start all over again with the revisions and experience the "whyareyoudoingthisthisissfeckingawfulstopnow" phase one more beautiful time.

  4. The number of times I agree with you sometimes scares me, Michael, but here it is again - on both counts: 1) keep going and 2) trust your characters to help you to get through. In workshops I always say that the main thing you need to write a novel is stamina. My first one (which was a very early, unrecognisable version of The Sparrow Conundrum), I started for fun because I had a couple of ideas which I thought were funny. I'd had plays staged and broadcast but never tried a novel, so I was writing for my own pleasure. This was pre-computers, so I hand wrote it and typed it out and, one day, I noticed that the paper pile was about half an inch high. I was impressed so I kept going and, in the end, there it was, well over an inch of sustained prose.

    As for the character bit, I've just done a guest post on writing a first draft and, as I thought about my 'technique', I realised I didn't have one - I just leave it to the characters to do something.

  5. You make excellent points, Michael, and I agree with them all. What lured me to this blog post, however, was the photo. Who is that child and I can I have him?

    Seriously now: As time goes by, I tend to outline less and write by the seat of my pants more. I probably spend about as much time writing and tweaking the first three chapters of a novel as I do the balance of it. Once I set the groundwork, I'm all set for the remainder of the book. If I can't get those first thre chapters down, though, I'm toast.

    My hump always occurs just past the mid-point of a fiction novel and for the next couple of chapters. I hit the wall there every time. What's odd, however, is when I write nonfiction books, I don't have a hump. Maybe it's because I outline more? Or because my nonfiction doesn't have characters? Go figure...

    One of the things I learned (from Lawrence Block's "How to Tell Lies for Fun and Profit") is that it's better to force myself to run through a rough draft, even if it's crappy, than to get hung up after writing six perfect chapters and not be able to write another word. You can always edit crap. You can always add to it. But you can't work with nothing.

    Great info--thanks for sharing.

  6. And so you should, Ricky, he says with a smile.

    Alex, I wish I had the chance to get over the hump so soon. Mine is usually well past the half-way stage.

    LG, ain't it sweet when you sub-conscious loves you?

  7. Bill, I worry that we are one and the same person. For a start, we are never seen in the same room at the same time...

    Linda, I can see how having a plan like in the non-fic will help counter "the hump". As for the Lawrence Block advice, that is so on the money. Or as someone equally as successful once said (not sure, but it might have been Mr King) get it written and then get it right.

  8. Yep, keep on writing and trusting that the characters are developed enough to take the story forward. One well-published writer once told me that when writing a novel to think of it in scenes - that really was less daunting. Love that fed-up wee guy at the top!

  9. I also admire people who can write a whole book. Getting published I don't admire that much, because I know that rubbish gets published even more than brilliant things /sayswithatearinhiseye/

  10. Dez, I agree. There are times I am mystified by what publishing houses decide to publish.