The 40K Doldrums

I’m just shy of 40,000 words on the fantasy romance, so—predictably—the wind machine filling my sails has been switched off. This always happens around this point of writing mass, where it becomes clear I’ve put a lot of time and labor into a project and finally have something substantial to show for it. You’d think that would be a positive moment, and maybe it is for half a second, but then it sinks in that this is only a third of the story; and after I write the whole story, I’ll have to do multiple rounds of revisions; and after I do multiple rounds of revisions, I have to do either these thousand things to shop it around or these ten thousand things to self-publish it; and after it’s published, I’ll have to do all this marketing and accounting while working on another book so I can do all of this again. The scope of the undertaking gets overwhelming, my brain says “Let’s NOT,” and I stare for days at the last word I wrote.

Because generating ideas is the fun part, I have too many two-page proposals to count. These make Brain lively because they are limitless, unspoiled potential that has not yet caused any pain, frustration, or disappointment. Brain is enthused about working on one of those… for about 40,000 words.

I’m not new here, Brain! I know how this works. I’m too jaded to be seduced by that shiny young idea that will eventually make me just as miserable as the one I’ve already been committed to for 40,000 words.

But because I’m not new here, I know I’m perfectly capable of staring despairingly at an immobile cursor for months on end, so I have to give Brain a toy to play with to stave off inertia. Brain wanted the Cannibal Comedy, so the Cannibal Comedy is what Brain got.

(No humans were eaten during the making of this story. It’s a light mystery surrounding a sex doll, with a smidge of romance cockblocked by rather a lot of circumstantial evidence of feasting on human flesh. “It’s cute. Trust me,” says the writer poking her pen at a corpse in a hot tub.)

This was a deliberately sadistic story choice on my part. Mysteries have to be plotted in reverse. Obviously, the crime (or whatever the mystery is) must be completed before it can be investigated. In real life, the investigator comes along after the fact, gathers anything that might be a clue, and most of the time never finds the answer. People do this all the time on a small scale: there’s a strange noise, you look for a source, you don’t find an obvious one, you say “welp, guess we’ll never know,” and you get on with your life, mystery unsolved. Detectives’ filing cabinets are stuffed with unsolved cases, not because they were committed by criminal masterminds but because real-life evidence and observation just aren’t as conveniently thorough as the success stories that make it onto TV.

Writers of fictional mysteries, however, aren’t allowed to leave the mystery unsolved. They have to know whodunnit and how and why. They have to have all of the evidence to prove it, plus a hefty amount of misleading and distracting information to make the investigation more interesting. And then, instead of straight out telling everything they know, they have to strategically dole it out as if the character and the reader are collecting and interpreting clues, withholding until the very end the “Aha!” piece that makes everything clear. (Somebody probably claims to be able to aimlessly wander to a successful mystery conclusion, but my side eye is is set on HIGH for that one.)

I’m a plotter/planner/outliner. I like knowing as much as humanly possible about my story before I start the one-damn-word-after-another part of writing. But I plan in a forward direction from a starting point. I can jump forward, I can step back and make an adjustment, but overall, I think forward from beginning to end, choosing the path as I go. I know my destination is *hand flap* in that direction, but the journey might change specifically where I want to end up, so I don’t worry about achieving a specific ending.

Okay, can’t do that here! So I gave Brain a shiny new toy that turned out to be A JOB.

I did figure it out eventually. It was a rare case for me of brainstorming working better with a keyboard than a pen because of the massive amount of moving things around as my inclination to work from the beginning clashed with the necessity of working from the end. The two-page proposal has expanded to six pages.

But more importantly, the Cannibal Comedy has now caused pain and frustration, and Brain isn’t interested in shooting for disappointment, so I can steer the broken brat back to the project in which we’ve invested much more time and labor.

Oh, you thought I gave up?

Nah. There are specific circumstances under which I’ll abandon a project (for example, “the person paying me to write this stopped paying me” or “this romance novel has become a cudgel with which to bludgeon men who suck“), but I don’t let brain weasels make irrevocable decisions.

I’m not new here. I know how this works.

2 thoughts on “The 40K Doldrums”

    1. Same title and chapter headings, but what Caz’s aunt wrote was a tongue-firmly-in-cheek dating guide. I didn’t want those zingers to go to waste, but I can’t, in good conscience, encourage people to date, so this happened instead.

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