Week 94

In the middle of the swamp; this week I passed the putative halfway point. 94

I say putative, as I expected the final word count of this draft to be roughly 100,000, but every day it gets longer, and concluding scenes get further and further away. Word count is rarely a useful barometer for your story - sometimes I hit a word length target, but am still way behind on where my character should be.

In the middle of the swamp I can see as far back as I can forward. The story to come is exciting still, I think it will work, I think I have something. The story written so far needs work, but there's something there. Where I am right now feels the least stable. I could go in any direction. All those potential ideas and brilliant moments of thematic significance and plot twists turn like putty in my hands into, well, clay.

There is vast disappointment at the heart of anything creative: turning something imagined into something real, with all its flaws and inadequacies, is inevitably disheartening. If I were feeling pretentious (guess what - I am), I'd say it was an intimation of death. THERE I SAID IT.

You have to keep working it, throwing the pot until it resembles the shape you want.

Okay, that's it; I'm out of pottery metaphors.

The whole process makes me think more and more about the question of the author's control on a story, and the debate about interactive fiction. I wrote about this once before. Now that I am trying to write something, I am no longer just a reader, and I find my whole way of reading has changed, maybe forever, maybe just while I am in the middle of a story myself (I hope it's the latter). Writing has given me an insight I don't feel I had when I wrote that blog post, and definitely didn't way back when I was 20 and encountered the idea that the author is "dead" for the first time at university ('way back'? let's just say 'back', shall we?).

In my mind, as I write, I am aware of a vast potential story. It includes every inference, every thought I have ever had about my book and every detail that led up to every event, and makes every possible statement about my theme. It covers the back stories of all my characters. It includes every bit of dialogue and every sentence that wakes me up in the middle of the night, however terrible. It is huge.

While writing, especially now as the story progresses beyond the mid-point and I have a Janus-like view of it, behind and in front of me, it becomes increasingly overwhelming. But I can only write one narrative, one angle on that story, whether it's a particular character's viewpoint or told from a particular point in time. That one narrative can have echoes of the wider story, sub-plots, diversions and dead ends (in particular in my favourite form of storytelling, the novel), but for the sake of the reader and the world's trees it has to be relatively succinct. Art and the a reader's enjoyment demands that it has shape, too.

So at any one point, as a writer, you are writing the narrative you think should be told, carving your way through a morass of ideas, picking scenes and dropping others, and choosing one narrative over a multitude of others. And at the stage I'm at, there is a nagging sense that you could be (maybe should be) writing another version of this story.

Word count this week: 8,175 Second draft: 54,100 First draft: 128,661