How do you know when something is finished?
That’s a very hard question to answer. I know that my residency here is about to end because New Year’s Eve is here. With 2015 comes January and a whole new person to share their writing experiences with you. Just like that, I am done.
Novels obviously aren’t like that. You could keep writing unto your very last breath and still be unsure. You could write “The End” at a place that feels right but how could you be sure?
Despite what I said in an earlier post, stories aren’t magical things, and writers aren’t magicians. Writing is hard work, as anyone who’s tried to finish a novel knows. Sometimes we might be tempted to take a shortcut by writing in an existing world or with another author.
Well, it’s Christmas and all that. What are you up to? Me, I plan to get some writing in before heading off to a family lunch, because I like to write every day, even birthdays.
One of the things new writers are often told is “write what you know”. Like most writing advice, it’s partly right, partly wrong. Obviously, slavish devotion to this rule would mean writing no science fiction, no fantasy, no historical fiction, or anything like that. At its most extreme, you could only write about the people you know and the places you’ve personally visited.
One of the hardest things about being a new writer is finding reasons to keep going. In my early days, I wrote five novels and twenty short stories before selling a single word. That’s around half a million words. What motivated me on days when the dream wasn’t enough?
In my first post I mentioned that I used to write music. It’s true. In High School, I produced reams of scores for piano and other instruments, and later moved onto a very limited 8-track sequencer running on the same Amiga computer I used to write my first novel.
Sleep is a time when our unconscious gets busy, filling our heads with nonsense and wonders. More of the former than the latter, usually, but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve woken up with a thought that either solved a problem I was struggling with the previous day or an entirely new idea.
In the science fiction and fantasy scene, there’s a lot of talk about world-building. You know, how the science of Star Wars works (or doesn’t work) and how the different kingdoms of Game of Thrones differ from each other, etc. Which is not to say that world-building isn’t important in other genres, like romance and crime. It’s just more obvious. I mean, take historical fiction as a genre that sits in the middle, between pure realism and speculative fiction. No one I know has ever been to 18th Century Italy (say) so the author has to create a convincing picture of it and make it make sense, using nothing but words.
We are what we eat. That’s what they say, and I think it’s true of writing too. We write what we read, or we are at least strongly influenced by what we read.
I’m asking myself this question now, not just because my residency arguably begins with this second post, but also because I’m about to start writing a new novel. The new novel of a new series, in fact; there’s a lot riding on it. So: where to start?
Where does anyone start?