Hard questions

The last count was 35,062. Sixty-six days later, the count was 75,512. That means I added roughly 622 words per day to my novel-in-progress. Of course, progress wasn’t as linear as that. Due to the nature of my boring day job–day shifts, night shifts, transitions into and out of the latter–my actual writing days have probably numbered half of the above. Has the inability to write day-in, day-out helped me? I don’t know. But the fact is that I’ve reached a new stage in the project.

Kind of.

See, as I was finishing up, I realised that I didn’t like the ending. Actually, I liked it. But it didn’t make sense. It didn’t feel appropriate. Spoiler alert: the original ending was, shall we say, violent. There’s nothing wrong with violence, but the violence included in my intended ending felt non-sensical, forced, incomprehensible. Part of me thought, “Fuck it. Isn’t all violence incomprehensible to the victim, on some level?” Another part of me answered: “Sure. But not to that degree.”

Result: I have a drafted novel with a necrotised ending, a chicken minus the head, a broom without the bristles. At this point, you may be wondering, “Now what?” Well, here’s what.

My first task is to “Recreate the Compression”. This is a text doc that breaks down the story. In it I summarise the story as a whole, each act as a whole, each chapter as a whole, and each beat as a whole. (Note, “whole” is a loaded term here.) Such a document helps me understand the substance of the story from multiple different levels, but more importantly, it helps me stave off the chief demon of fiction: BOREDOM. If I can make each compression of each of the different parts sound interesting and engaging in isolation, then I’ve set myself up well for a something-other-than-mediocre debut.

Recreating the Compression doc will also mean that I have to “Solve the Ending”. But like before, having a beat-by-beat outline for the ending won’t be enough. I’ll have to take it and expand it into an actual draft. (FYI, I already have some speculations for what the ending will be. All I need to do is play around with multiple permutations of it.)

With that done, I’ll be onto my third task, which is to “Ask Hard Questions.” Hard questions are questions that contain the threat of worldview collapse. Hard questions are questions asked by the people who love you and hate you the most. They’re not “gotchas”; they are more profound than that. Their purpose is to disrupt, reveal, confront, challenge, and off-balance.

Finally, after asking them, my fourth task will be to “Answer Hard Questions”. That could mean formulating responses in private that have no demonstratable effect on the text–clarification of intent concerning a particular detail, for example–or, more likely, it could mean carving open, rearranging and sealing the body of my text like a surgeon on LSD.

“Recreate the Compression”; “Solve the Ending”; “Ask Hard Questions”; “Answer Hard Questions”; those are my four tasks for the next month or so. One last thing, though. I’d like to share one particularly surprising thing that I (re)learnt during this period of swelling. It is, simply, this:

Each moment is a portal to any moment.

The context behind this is fairly mundane: whilst drafting, my energy repeatedly flagged at what I thought was the limit of expansion for a specific beat. It took me a few run-throughs to realise that all I had to do was pick a moment in the scene, any moment, and go deeper into it, find the infinite detail within. Examples: a frown could be a portal to a childhood memory; the play of light on a sea’s surface could be represent an important fragment of worldbuilding; a detail in the background could be an author’s easter egg or a foreshadowing central to a B-plot.

Each moment is a portal to any moment. With that realisation, all concerns of writer’s block vanished, and in it’s place arose something else. Call it writer’s responsibility: the consideration not of the ability to travel, but the deciding upon of the best route to take.

Of course, it’s presumptous to claim that this experience, this choice, is unique to writers and writing. It isn’t. None of us have to choose where we’re going, but we all, whoever we are, have to decide how we’ll get there.