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Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Steep Hill

I'm finding the eighty thousand words in eighty days challenge a bit of a steep hill. I keep stopping to have a look at what I've achieved and to think about it, but the view isn't very satisfying. Some days it looks bright and promising. But on most of the others, I look at it and feel empty. There's no substance there. The settings seem insignificant. The characters don't touch me at all. So it's quite a lonely hill, just me standing there with a 'So what?' feeling.

When I used to take part in the online flash fiction competition, Write-Invite, I was almost always pleased with the result. It was the same idea, writing to a deadline of thirty minutes, and therefore a case of pouring out words from the soul. But I can't seem to do it any more. I have tried setting a deadline in much the same way, writing for an hour or so, which yields roughly the thousand words I need for the challenge. But the impetus just isn't there. I don't write with the same charge of adrenaline.

I have set myself themes, so that I have a purpose with each story. But they don't unfold. They trickle in odd tangents and therefore never really gel. I have few decent endings.

I guess that when I finish, I shall edit drastically and rip out the rubbish. But I'm wondering if there will be much left over. It's a bit like a cake my youngest daughter baked the other day. The top, bottom and sides burnt. We sliced them off and then discovered the centre was raw. So we discarded that too. The remainder was delicious - light, fluffy and totally edible. But there wasn't very much of it and it looked a bit messy!

So I hope I shall have something at the end, but it may not be anywhere near the eighty thousand words I need. And whether it is worthwhile or not, I shall have to wait and see. The experience so far is making me feel I ought to cut my losses and give up. At first, I was just pleased to write the required amount, but perhaps that is what is hampering the creative flow. I'm just too interested in completing the daily task, rather than really writing from the heart. But if I could do it with the flash fiction, why can't I do this? Should I keep climbing to the top or accept that the view from there will be foggy and pointless?


  1. Just noticed your post, Joanna. While I greatly admire you for trying this challenge, I do wonder if you're perhaps compromising your wonderful writing by having to get so mnay words down so quickly. Flash fiction/short stories are so much more immediate than a novel (if it's novel length you're writing!).

    On the other hand, it's a good way to get all those words down and then to enjoy the process of going back through everything in a more leisurely way. Whatever you decide to do, the best of luck with it all. You are such a good writer that there's bound to be far more gold than dross in it all!

  2. I wculdnt' even think about doing what you're doing, Joanna. I found the A toZ blog hard enough. But I'm full of admiration, and I agree with Rosemary. Why don't you just keep going, regardless of how it seems, and then have a long hard look at it all when you've finished. There may well be some real gems, and you can pick them out and work on those. How far have you got?

  3. I agree with Rosemary and Frances, Joanna - and particularly in that there will be gold!

  4. I have always had the problem that if I try to do too much I end doing less and wanting a break from it all.

    Maybe it's the thought of the overall mountain that is weighing you down. Perhaps if instead you looked at it as 40 short stories of 2000-ish words and aimed for one every other day without thinking of what comes after each one it wouldn't seem as daunting. And don't forget that, if this is like Nano, then it's only a first draft you're aiming for, not completed ready-to-post stuff.

    I'm sure you'll find a way through it and when you look back over what you've written and start the editing of each piece I bet there will be some wonderful stuff.

    (And you actually only need 45k words to enter the Scott Prize in October, so there's plenty of room for cutting back :) )

    (It's Bernadette, in case it makes me anonymous again!)

  5. Your experience sounds similar to mine when I did Nanowrimo a couple of years ago. I tended to get very focused on the word count and was just pleased to keep making headway, but my heart was often not in the story I was telling.

    What it did show me though was that when under pressure I could find those words and come up with ideas to continue moving things forwards. I never have returned to working on that novel, but that's not to say I won't.

    Sometimes if I have a couple of stories that lack substance, but share similar themes, I find I can splice them together to make one whole story that I'm happy with. Or take a lively character from one story and put them into another where I'm stuck with a dull bunch of folk not doing much.

    I wouldn't worry about having to chop loads of your first draft stuff. Probably we all do that anyway. I suppose you just have to decide if this is the best way to use the time and whether you're getting something from it.

  6. Rosemary, thank you so much. You have made me feel better! I agree with you that I'm probably compromising my standards in the rush to write the required number of words. Normally when I'm writing, I don't ever check the word count until I've finished. I think this challenge had changed my attitude to my writing, but not in a way that suits me.
    I'm really grateful to you for your insight, - thank you!

    Thank you, Frances, so much. I think you're right about the possibility of gems and I shall hold onto that thought. It really is a massive challenge and I'm nut sure about continuing. But I shall definitely pick over what I've done and keep the good things that may well be lurking there. Thank you.

    Thank you Teresa. That is a very heartening thought and I like the idea that things aren't all bad. It's hard to see the wood for the trees when you're disheartened, so these comments really help. Thank you.

    Many many thanks, Bernadette, I think you have a very good point. I am taking on rather too much here. It's not the way I usually write and it feels out of kilter with my normal routine, which I have always enjoyed. I think editing it all will help a lot and the Scott Prize is a fantastic and realistic goal to aim for. Thank you!

    Thank you so much, Joanne. This is a hugely important point. When I did Write-Invite, it came always from the heart. In thirty minutes and with a given theme, it is easy to do that, especially as it's only once a week. But to keep up a thousand a day and keep it heartfelt, the pressure is too much.
    I like your idea of splicing things together and I could certainly try that, as there are one or two characters I like and may be worth preserving if I can fit them into some of the better settings that I've got.

    It is vital now to do as you suggest - decide if I'm getting something out of this and either get on with it or cut my losses and make good use of the 26000 words I've written.
    Thank you for such valuable advice.

    Many grateful thanks to all my fabulous writer friends. This has been so useful. I'll let you know what I decide in the next post!

  7. Hi Joanna
    I'm here a bit late, so I see you've already had some great advice, I look forward to hearing what you decide to do with your story!

  8. Thanks penandpaints! I shall be posting about my decision soon!

  9. How come I've only just discovered your wonderful blog? I've taken on a little project (My Weekly Pocket Novel - 50,000 words) - simply to see if I can get the required word count down in the fastest possible time. However, my perfectionism keeps getting in the way, so off I go to do a bit more research (it's set during The Blitz). I'm almost halfway, but my inspiration is flagging slightly. Whoever said it was easy being a writer? It sounds to me as if you're doing really well in that you're learning so much about the way you write in the process of what you're doing with this latest project. Never a bad thing!

  10. Thank you so much Jo! It's fantastic to see you here!
    Well done for tackling the pocket novel. I think the halfway-point is the toughest place to reach. That's when you realise there is still a way to go and, if you were on a long walk or bike-ride, you might consider turning round to head for home. But I'm sure you will keep going with this. And it could be that breaking off to concentrate on the research for a while will give you fresh impetus and new inspiration. I'm already looking forward to reading it. I think the Blitz will make an amazing setting. Very best of luck with the second half - I know you can do it.
    I agree with you that I'm learning masses about the way I write. I'm glad I tried the 80k/80 days challenge, because it has taught me that I had already found a comfortable way of writing and I want to return to it. It's a bit like changing your favourite shampoo or your usual lipstick, just to see if a new product is better, then discovering you were perfectly happy with what you were already using. It's good to be adventurous, but you still have to be honest with yourself and not persevere with something just because you feel you have to see it through to the end.