Whatever "It" Is

I've talked about it before, but I go into each year with a writing goal. Last year, I wanted to prove to myself that if I wanted to, I could write a novel, so I set a goal of 100,000 words. That number seemed unattainable enough that, if I reached it, I'd have to believe that with the right amount of work, I could write a novel.

100,000 terrible words later, I had my goal for this year planned out - this time, I would write a novel worth something. Maybe even a novel worth publishing. Then, 10,000 words into this year's project, I knew I had to throw it away and start over. Last year was about writing anything. This year needed to be about writing well.

Another 2,000 words in, I had to throw it away again. Then again at 500 words. The first sentence over and over again.

Something was nagging at me, telling me that what I was getting onto the page wasn't quite right. With the 10,000 words, I can tell you pretty clearly what it was, or rather what they were. The tone wasn't right, to begin with. I wanted the writing to crackle, the quiet moments as fun as the loud ones because of the delight of the words.

And that's the other thing, too. There were no loud moments. The story lacked inertia. There was no forward push to the story, so once the initial hook of the story was out there, the main character just kind of floundered around for another 7,000 words or so. I could feel it in the act of writing the way I'm sure someone who'd read it could feel it too.

It took writing, scrapping, and starting over many times to realize that I just didn't know what the story was. I have the thing, that one little nugget, that I can use to describe the story to someone who asks what I'm working on, but I didn't have the story of it yet.

I got so used to churning out words last year, in what was supposed to just be an exercise, that I forgot almost everything I had learned about planning a story. I used to notecard meticulously. I had a table I only used for outlining.

I kept trying to build a house without knowing what the final shape of it should be. I'd put up some walls and wonder why they'd sink into the soft earth.

I now need to commit myself, if I want to write something worth something, to planning a story, not because I have to follow it word for word in the actual act of writing, but because if you don't know what you're aiming at, it's pretty much impossible to hit it.