No Rhyme or Reason

Writing isn’t much like my day job when I look at the two in terms of the output. My employer expects me to deliver a constant stream of completed work, no matter how crappy or happy I feel, for a given amount of hours per day. Since, for all intents and purposes I’m my own boss when it comes to writing, you’d think I would apply the same work ethic, i.e. putting out a constant stream of work for a given number of hours per evening or weekend, especially seeing as how the sales of my novels bring in a modest, but welcome extra income stream. It doesn’t seem to work out that way. Since I already know where the story is going and what the events are going to be, creative inspiration isn’t an issue, not when the first draft of the second Dunmoore book is over two thirds done. I should, in theory, be able to put out 2,000-3,000 words a day (yes, I’m a touch typist, so I can work the keyboard almost as fast as I dream up the dialogue), but I’ve found it impossible to keep any sort of regular work schedule. Some days, when I’m feeling particularly beaten up by the endless cold that’s been plaguing me for weeks, I can be extraordinarily productive, such as yesterday, when I wrote over 3,600 words – a chapter and a half – after a regular day at work. Whereas last Sunday, when I had nothing to do but write, I struggled to produce more than 1,500 words, and on Monday, I produced nothing. Some days when I feel just fine, I can’t bother myself to open the manuscript and pound the keyboard. I find it somewhat ironic that after all the years I’ve lived in a highly disciplined environment like the Army, and with my current employment in IT, I’m not able to discipline myself to write at a consistent rate. Writer’s block happens, but not when I know how the story will go. Doing simple math, if I could write consistently 2,000 words a day, five days a week, I could have a first draft done in twelve to fourteen weeks. Interestingly, my very productive days still seem to make up in large part for the days I’m too lazy to write, and I still have a good chance of seeing the first draft completed by Easter. Should I hit that target, it means I’ll have used fifteen weeks, give or take, and that includes a rewrite of the first 100 pages, when the story meandered along a path that actually started to bore me, so you can imagine how much it would have pained a reader. Strangely enough, when I did that rewrite, I was very much contemplating shifting the story’s focus to a different plot device, yet as I continued writing, it pulled me back to the original MacGuffin, only better fleshed out, with more twists and turns. Yesterday, I firmly fixed that MacGuffin into place by writing the last chapter, or at least the important part of the last chapter, thereby ensuring that I wouldn’t lose focus as I write the last hundred or so pages between where the story is now, and its conclusion. I figured with all the red herrings swimming the star lanes, I had better make sure I didn’t try to get too cute. The final confrontation between Dunmoore and the story’s antagonist(s) is about to be written, starting as early as this weekend. I’ll be interested to see how my output fares. Plotting heavy action scenes is always harder for me than writing snappy dialogue, and I need to make sure that I don’t grossly violate physics or military principles while doing so and yet not end up with a Staff College treatise on deep-space combat operations either. The temptation to expound on tactics can be great, especially when one has read so many stories where the military commanders make decisions that defy logic in an attempt to advance a plot. I figure if I have to justify to myself why I’m having Dunmoore or her foes make the decisions they make, I’m on the wrong track. For an experienced starship captain, fighting should come naturally, and the writing needs to reflect that. As well, hiding behind devices like a bad guy’s lunacy to explain boneheaded decisions won’t fly, hence my statement that plotting the heavy action is more work for me, especially if I want to do it with any sort of intellectual honesty. It needs to be on a happy middle ground between ‘See hill, take hill’ simplicity and Clausewitz, with a dash of Sun Tzu for flavouring. I may get lucky and have a stream of consciousness driving my writing of the culminating confrontation, or I may struggle to put words to paper in a coherent fashion. Either way, the next two weeks will be harder than the last eight, but having already committed the book’s last chapter to the page, I’ve given myself the incentive to plow through. The ending also nicely sets up events in the larger universe and will serve to drive future episodes of the life and times of Siobhan Dunmoore, Commonwealth Navy, and therefore I can start thinking about the MacGuffin for Book Three when I’m not actively working on Book Two.

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