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Leaving a little want-to

Jason Gurley
Jason Gurley
2 min read

I've just spent the weekend putting miles on my keyboard. My hands don't hurt, but they've gotten clumsy. More and more words came out with transposed letters. My word count plummeted. I developed a headache from all of the screen-staring.

There haven't been many happy writing stretches in the last couple years. A book didn't work out, despite the miles I put into it. I'm still bummed about that. I like the book I wrote. Maybe someday I'll come back to it and figure out why it didn't catch an updraft.

Right now there are two projects. There's the short story I'm developing into a novel. And there's a ghostwriting project.

Earlier this month, I finished a draft of the ghost project. That doesn't mean it's a draft ready for anyone else. It'll get there. I put it aside, giving myself a few weeks to get some distance from it, so I would come back with fresh eyes and see all the things that needed fixing.

I've been at work on the short story-to-novel project, The Dark Age, for two years now. I've written close to 150,000 words of discovery, of trial and error, trying to find the right way to tell the story I want to tell. Sometimes I can't tell right away what's working. Sometimes it takes thirty or forty thousand words before I look up and don't recognize the landmarks, and realize I've taken the wrong road entirely.

Two weeks ago I took vacation. Didn't go anywhere. With the hired project on the back burner, I spent the week trying to figure out The Dark Age. I'd formed a plan, a nice-and-loose plan. That week I:

  • wrote my ending
  • wrote some islands
  • outlined, a little

(I did a whole newsletter on this plan, btw.)

Writing the ending unstuck me. Abruptly I knew what the novel was aiming for. I'd heard of people writing their endings first for years. I'd never tried it. Ho-ly shit! Why didn't I try this earlier?

Writing the islands was something new for me, too. No matter how I told the story, there were some scenes that just weren't not going to be in the book. So I wrote a few of those. This worked, too. I don't know how much connective tissue I'll need between those islands, but that's a 'later' problem.

And then I outlined. Nothing fancy, nothing deep. I strung those islands together, dropped a few bright signal buoys between them. The story came together, not as abstract as it had been before.

That week went beautifully. When the vacation ended, I kept up the pace. Each morning I'm up a few hours before work. I rewrite a dozen or more pages of the book-for-hire; that pace gets me a polished draft by the end of April. And then I log a few hundred words of The Dark Age. And this past week went beautifully, too. This weekend? Beautiful. There's a groove here. Juggling two books, as it turns out, is not impossible; you just weight them. Do a lot for one, a little for the other. When the time comes to flip them, you listen, and do it.

The challenge right now, with the writing going so well, is that in the evenings I want to repeat the process. I'm trying not to do that, though. I'm leaving myself a little want-to so that I'm raring to go each morning, and a little forced downtime so that I keep turning the story over between sessions, seeing the problems I need to solve before I'm putting the words on the screen. By the time I sit down at the keyboard in the morning, I don't need any priming; I just go.

Writing about this seems like it might jinx it, so.

the dark ageprocessletters from hill house