If I ever knew who said it first, I’ve long forgotten. But the phrase had reason to kick me in the butt again this week—“I don’t know how to write a novel. I only know how to write the last one.” Which in my case is profoundly true. Every book is different, even if they’re in the same series concerned with—mostly—the same characters. It is a different book, or else why bother to write it at all? Yet writing other books in the Yamada series does not help very much with this one. Ask me how to write The War God’s Son and I could tell you, because I’ve already done it. Ask me how to write The Emperor in Shadow and I’d have to say, honestly, I’m still figuring that one out. Worse, I’m putting obstacles in my way.
Among my many failings is a natural gift for complexity. By which I mean that I have a habit of taking something inherently simple and turning it into something complicated. I don’t mean to do this, it’s just something that happens, given half the chance. It applies to home DIY as well as writing, though in both cases it makes accomplishing a goal harder than it needs to be. The current project is a prime example.
I’m not going to recap the turmoil that prompted us to sell our house in Mississippi and relocate to central New York state, but naturally a lot of priorities had to change, at least temporarily, to get this accomplished: scouting where we wanted to live, preparing the old house for sale, finding and buying a new one, arranging the move, transporting ourselves and Da Boyz, getting moved in and settled—ongoing. The point being that I had a novel due and the time to get it done was winding down. So the mantra running through my brain became “Have to finish the book. Have to finish the book. Have to finish the book…” ad infinitum.
And work was slowing to a frustrating crawl. I knew where the book was headed. I knew what was happening, what needed to happen, and I found myself obsessing over getting from point A to point B, which should have been the simplest thing in the world and every word was fighting me. Yes, writing is hard work and do not let anyone tell you otherwise, because they don’t know. Yet this particular project should not have been as hard as it seemed to be getting.
“Have to finish the book.”
Thank heaven I managed to stop myself, take a step back, and look at what I was doing. I was focusing on a false goal and my perspective was lost. Because of the deadline, I was obsessed with finishing the book, when what I needed to be obsessed with was writing the book.
Wait a minute, I can hear you thinking. If you write the book then aren’t you finishing it? That’s implied, right? You haven’t written a book until you’ve finished writing it, after all. True, but as I implied above, the key is not the goal, it is the perspective. By focusing on the goal line I was losing sight of what I needed to do to get there, and that is where process comes in. If I say I want to reach the top of that mountain, it’s all well and good, but absent a road or incline railway, I’m not getting there without harness, rope, cold weather gear and a workable route. After which getting there is accomplished one step at a time, and most of that time your attention damn well better be on those steps, not the peak.
“I have to write the book” is something entirely different from “I have to finish the book.” One will get you where you need to go. Heaven knows where you could end up with the other, but probably not where you want to be.
Now that I’m back on track, the book has crossed the 70k mark. I don’t write doorstops, so by my estimate there’s about 20-25k left to go. I will get there.