Update on My Novel: Month 22

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

MARCH STATS

Days Writing: 22
New Words: 1525
New Chapters: 0.25

Total Word-count: 71,186
Total Chapters: 19

My goal for March was to work on the novel every single day. Even if I accomplished very little, I just wanted to learn how to be consistent in having some daily effort. And so far as that’s concerned, this month was a fair success. In all I worked on my novel for 22 days. Not my best ever, but certainly better than any months of late.

Obviously the 1,525 words written isn’t anything special, though. I only finished writing chapter 19, did an edit on all of it, and wrote a small piece of chapter 20. This continues a depressing trend in my performance. During the second year of working on this novel I have accomplished far, far less than I did during the first. Much of the time I feel like I am only scratching out the story a single grain at a time, and this feeling leads to a negative cycle. I feel dissatisfied from accomplishing so little, which makes me less motivated to put more time into it, which obviously makes me accomplish even less.

One of my major problems is that there are so many other things I want to fill my free time with. I want to have relaxation and recreation, just like everyone else, and I also struggle with more hobbies than I know what to do with. With these two forces combined it is a very hard thing to just say “no, write your book instead.”

I’ve been thinking about this, though, and there’s an experiment I’d like to try. While I might find it impossible to close the door on all my other ventures until this novel is finished, I don’t mind temporarily scaling them back. During the month of April I want to work on my novel every day, and I want to write or edit 500 words at least on each of those days. And so long I haven’t met that quota, I won’t do any of my other side activities during that same day.

I’ll still go to work just as much, I’ll still spend quality just as much time with my family, I’ll still take care of all my errands…there just won’t be any of my other personal treats until the novel has been cared for. And it might be that this excessive, and it might not even be sustainable…but that’s alright, because I can always recalibrate at the start of May.

I’ll let you know how this experiment goes next month, and in the meantime here’s one of the new pieces I wrote this month. Enjoy!

“Unless you want to take your chances, you should give the woodworker a drawing of exactly what sort of mirror to make,” John explains.

“Like how it should be shaped and all that?”

“Yes, exactly. Here, stand on this stool and look at what I’ve got laid out on my table: schematics.”

“Drawings!”

“No. Schematics. Drawings are fanciful and imaginative, but schematics are technical, shown to scale, giving the exact dimensions so that anyone can create the thing you want to perfect detail.”

“So for my mirror…”

“The woodworker wouldn’t only know how it should generally look, but the exact size and shape of it as well.”

“Alright, how do I make one?”

“I will help you with that. Let me get a fresh sheet ready. Alright then, how tall should it be?”

Clara lays two hands on the paper and John makes a mark at top and bottom.

“And where should the handle come to? Very good. And how wide at the widest part? Excellent. Mind you, we can alter this as we go along if it doesn’t come out quite how you wanted, this is just to get us started. Now tell me exactly you wanted this to look, and let me know any time I start to go wrong with it…”

An hour later and the schematic is complete.

“Do you like it?” John asks Clara.

“It’s wonderful! I just wish I could hold it!”

“Not a bad idea. Better to look at a physical model than just a drawing–“

“A schematic.”

“Yes, a schematic. Go look for something that’s the same size as this handle and see if it feels right in your hand.”

Update on My Novel: Month 22

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

FEBRUARY STATS

Days Writing: 12
New Words: 2867
New Chapters: .75

Total Word-count: 69,756
Total Chapters: 18.75

I consider February to be a more successful month than January. Not just because I was able to actually work on new material, but because my mind was more dedicated to the work…sometimes.

The fact is my performance for February was still very low. I seem to have found my way into the doldrums lately, and I’m having a hard time getting back out of it.

Of late I’ve had the goal to just write something every day. As you can see, I still missed on that very lax requirement for more than half of the days this last month. And on the days that I did write, I didn’t strive to do more than the bare minimum. My average wordcount on the days that I wrote was just shy of 240, hardly anything at all

I’ve tried a few different ways to get out of this slump, and frankly none of them have lasted more than a month. That’s alright. I’ll keep trying new ideas until either I find something that sticks or I get this novel out the long way.

So for March my goal will be to double down on that “write something each day.” All I’m looking for is consistency. I want to find a routine that I can become dependent on every day, even if it only churns out 20 words each time. I will measure my success in number of days and repetition, not in final wordcount. Once I’ve got that, then I’ll look for ways to expand on it.

Come back April 1st to hear how it went. In the meantime here is the piece I have selected to share from my work this month. Enjoy!

It is a very heavy blow to William, it hits even harder than the worm infestation. The first loss had softened him, so now this one is able to strike deep and truly wound.

“I’m sorry, William,” Eleanor can see the heartbreak in her husband’s eyes. “Will we still have enough crops to make enough of a profit back on the mainland?”

“Who’s to know? And even if we do now, then what about after the next problem comes up? Or the next after that?”

Eleanor nods sympathetically. “Things seemed to go much more smoothly during the trial season, didn’t it? Of course we were growing much less, then.”

“Yes, there seems to be much more that can go wrong when there is an entire community of crops.”

“Yes, there is,” Eleanor nods. “I know your original plan was to earn one-fifth of what we initially spent to come out here. If we bring in one-tenth, instead, is that so much worse?”

“Ten years to be successful in our investment?!”

“But we’d still be able to hire at least one or two new hands and expand on the foundation we’ve already set. Why the next year we’d be able to double things up to that one-fifth level. The next year even further. Accelerate the growth, just as you had been saying.”

William nods, but Eleanor can see he isn’t too encouraged.

“But today is still a disappointment, and I certainly wouldn’t sweep that under the rug. I’m truly sorry, darling.” Eleanor rests her hand on her husband’s sunburned arms. “You’ve worked very hard, and you’re not wrong to want to see the fruit of that. I’m sorry.”

Update on My Novel: Month 21

black pen near white printer paper
Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

JANUARY STATS

Days Writing: 13
New Words: 0
New Chapters: 0

Total Word-count: 66,892
Total Chapters: 18

Well, as you can see from these numbers, January was a very different sort of month, unlike any that I have worked before. My goal had been to carry on December’s “no back-to-back missed days,” but I didn’t meet that goal at all. And more alarmingly, I didn’t add any new words to my draft, I only refined the previous chapter.

To be perfectly blunt the work of this month was a very difficult slog for me. I had a long, troubled sequence to correct in Chapter 18, and I rewrote it multiple times before I was finally satisfied with the result. It was hard to motivate myself each day to grapple with it again, and that is what led to the low number of days.

I am pleased to say that I have the deed done now, though. There will, of course, be later drafts and refinements, but the sequence in question is at least on the same caliber as the rest of my novel now.

What finally got me over this hurdle was that I wrote the sequence in as verbose of a way as I could manage. I pumped it full of prose and complexity until it was bloated to nearly twice the size of what I wanted in the final product! Then it was a relatively easy task to read through the mass and carve out only the best chunks, chipping away at the sculpture until the proper form emerged from within. Next time I’m having trouble with a piece I’ll have to remember this method try it earlier in the process!

Today I start writing Chapter 19. I’m very excited to get going with the new material and I hope it leads to a more satisfying experience for the month. Come back on March when I’ll give you the next update. Before I go, here’s a section from my work in January. It is, of course, extracted from that large sequence that gave me so much trouble. Enjoy!

Thus, one morning John goes into his favorite grove, cuts down that giant tree, takes the top off, and clears it of every branch until it is ready for the carry.

His cart cannot assist him for the first part of this journey, the ground is much too uneven. He must negotiate the way with his two feet alone, the full weight of the tree upon his back. He knew this, though, and has already fashioned a rope-and-leather harness just for the job.

So he sits against the fallen log and secures it to his back, then rises to his feet in stages. At a few points he is in danger of falling backwards again, but finally he manages to stand erect. However no sooner does he accomplish this than his whole frame starts to shake and he has to drop to his knees to keep from tipping over. It takes some effort to adjust to this massive and very top-heavy load, but gradually he becomes acclimated to it, and then he is steady enough to stand and walk forward.

What follows then is a very deliberate march. Every bump and divot, every tangle of roots, every patch of concealing leaves is a terrible menace, and his eyes constantly scour the tapestry before him, careful not to miss any nuance of the land.

Now he goes up a small rise in the land, toes digging hard against the slope. Now down the other side, each step planted broadside for better stability. Now descending a rocky outcropping, shoulders rolled so that the edge of the trunk scrapes against the stones for an anchor. Now splashing through a narrow stream, knees bent to absorb the shock of the water’s force. Now picking across the washout of a rockslide, heels crushing loose pebbles and sliding shale underfoot. Now lifting feet high over a series of fallen trees. Now stiffening against winds that pelt down the mouth of a ravine. Now slamming feet to a halt when a rabbit startles out of a bush just ahead. So many little obstacles that normally would not require any special consideration, but today they are all herculean trials!

The Awkward Friends of Yesteryear

selective focus photography of green grass near beach
Photo by Julia Sakelli on Pexels.com

There’s a common story trope that begins with a main character being enamored by some mentor character, viewing this master as the most wise, most respected, and most powerful of role models, the very person that the protagonist wishes to become like. As the story continues, though, experience, enhanced perspective, and even skepticism develop in the main character until that rosy view of the mentor becomes challenged. The protagonist realizes that the mentor is actually the town fool, is considered quaint or even insane, and laughed at for the same grandiose claims that the protagonist had always found so enchanting. In Mary Poppins, is Bert the clever and talented friend Jane and Michael Banks see him as, or the dirty, uneducated bum that adults judge him to be? The resolution of this conundrum may vary from one story to another, but quite commonly the protagonist settles on a balance of the two perspectives. Perhaps the mentor isn’t as perfect as had been initially thought, but still has meant well and has genuine nuggets of value that the masses are wrong to ignore.

I’ve been jotting away at my stories for over 15 years now, and the cycle of my feelings towards them is pretty perfectly represented by this common narrative mechanic. When I first write a new work I tend to be amazed at the cleverness of my ideas and take pride in how well I am capturing each desired visual and emotion. As I finish I have the deep satisfaction of success, and I can only conceive of the story being received exactly as how I had intended. With every rereading immediately afterwards I seem to find something else to like about my work, and it takes on an almost mythical status to me.

Over time, though, my perspective tends to become more cynical. Scenes I considered profound now seem to be taking themselves way too seriously, well-rounded characters have become flatter, and all the pacing falls entirely out of step. Everything is so rushed, so melodramatic, so unearned. All I can see now are the mistakes. What’s more, they are the same mistakes I had made in prior stories that I was already aware of! One of my favorite blunders to make is not accounting for how much slower writing is than reading. Spend an hour writing battle scene and you’ll feel that you’ve crafted one of the most epic sequences ever penned. Read it back in a tenth of the time and it barely amounts to a little skirmish. Why do I fall for that illusion every time?

Still later, though, when I’m far enough removed from authoring the story that I don’t feel so embarrassed by it, I’m able to view it in a kinder light. Sure, the craftsmanship is still poorly wrought, but I was young and didn’t know what I was doing. And even though some parts remain so bad that they make me cringe, I am now able to accept that there also remain a few treasures that shine as brightly as ever. I come to realize that while the good parts don’t make up for the bad, neither do the bad parts spoil the good, each can be appreciated separately and individually. At this point I usually realize that I’m still very much in love with the original idea that sparked the entire work. Perhaps I’ve become disillusioned with the trappings I dressed that idea up with, but the core still remains a good one.

Right now, every story I still am in the honeymoon stage with each of the stories I’ve written for this blog. I feel great pride in each of them and consider them my finest work to date. That’s not to say I don’t see any flaws in them, I certainly do, but those flaws seem to be such minor actors that I can easily ignore them. I don’t expect this enchantment to last, though, sooner or later those errors are going to take center stage and I’ll start to think that I ought to delete these posts for shame of having them connected to my name. If there is anything that prevents me from doing so, it will be the hope that leaving them in all their hideous glory will provide a paper trail of my growth and improvement as a writer.

And then, still later, I will revisit the old stories and admit that their core ideas still mean a great deal to me. I may apologize to those seeds for having fashioned them such unworthy bodies that got in the way of their natural beauty. As away to make amends I might extract and enclothe them in a more fitting vessel. Having both the old and the new versions would have the added benefit of giving a clear metric for exactly how far I have improved in my craftsmanship. And then I would be proud and enamored with my work all over again.

Of course not all of my stories falls under this pattern, there are always the exceptions. Some of my work I simply lose all interest in immediately and can find no beating heart that needs saving. Other pieces, very few, remain just as captivating to me no matter how long since writing. The very first story I posted on this blog, Caterpillars, was one of these. I first conceived of and wrote it eight years ago and, perhaps due to its simplicity, I have felt very little need to change it in all the time since. The version that I uploaded for this blog remains very consistent to that original work. During that very same year I also had an idea for a story about a small girl’s toy jester, a little doll that comes to life and has a sobering experience with the loss of innocence. That one has not aged so well, its main failing being one of “overdoing it” with the main themes. I do still like the core idea, though, and I’d like to try to give it a more nuanced treatment. Come back Thursday and I will present the refashioned work, then explain the differences between the new and original forms, and how I feel about each of them.

Until then, I encourage you to revisit any old stories that you might have written off as childish or clumsy. Ask yourself, past all the schmaltz and the awkwardness are their cores still able to ring true? If so, they may just need a reimagining to bring them to their proper glory. Your moments of creative inspiration deserve the best that you can give them, and the fact that you can recognize your earlier shortcomings is the evidence that you are finally ready to do them better justice. Go and see just how much you’ve improved.