The most exhausting aspect of writing is how much thinking it involves.
Recently I’ve been working on a second draft of my novel Bloodied Wings, trying to resolve some structural problems and improve the plot as well as working generally on character and prose. It’s taken me possibly longer than any other book, due to a period of writer’s block in the middle and the constraints of university on my time: I started the draft on the first of November, and finished it a couple of minutes before midnight last night.
That last dash saw me write nearly 11.5k yesterday alone, and yes, that was physically exhausting. My poor fragile wrists aren’t up to that kind of treatment, and my back was clunking ominously every time I moved from about mid-afternoon. (Not that I started until after lunch… mornings and writing and I do not mix very well.)
But the most tiring part was figuring out what I was writing. A few chapters previously I’d reordered a number of scenes, and then added something in which basically threw a spanner in the works of my plot, so what I wrote yesterday was an attempt to salvage the rapidly derailing train that was my ending. Except that while trying to retrieve the spanner I sort of knocked the whole toolbox in, and ended up with a plot that barely resembled the first draft.
Not to mention the fact that none of the characters were in the right part of the city, those who were meant to be friends seemed to be enemies and vice versa, and one of the characters who was supposed to die very shortly was looking very much alive while another, who should have been fighting fit, was languishing in a hospital bed with a stab wound. None of it was going according to plan.
I’ve always been the kind of writer who makes it up as I go along because I find most of my ideas come to me while I’m writing and I’m much more likely to figure out a plot point while working on the book than while wandering around the house. That said, it can be pretty overwhelming when I’m already trying to keep track of the scenes I’ve reordered to make sure they all go back in, so to have to balance plot questions on top of that can be too much.
In times of trouble, I resort to whiteboards.
There’s a whiteboard on the wall in my room. It’s magnetic, so it has a fair amount of junk attached to it at any one time, but it’s also usually covered in writing — a to-do list, an illegible spider diagram detailing plots for possibly two separate books, some kind of reminder that is apparently disconnected to the whole lot… It’s the one thing from my room at home that I miss the most when I’m at uni.
Because when I’m stuck on a plot (or I suppose an essay) there’s something very satisfying about scribbling it on a whiteboard as big as you like, wiping it off when it doesn’t work with no sign that it was ever there in the first place. It doesn’t have to be neat or make sense — quite often I’m the only person who has a clue what I’m trying to say, and sometimes not even I’m sure.
Then there are the other kinds of thinking. Talking to myself, talking to my parents who have no idea what I’m on about, talking to a friend on Skype; writing out bullet points for three or four potential endings and seeing which has the fewest problems and seems the most exciting; writing scenes and just as rapidly discarding them into my “deleted scenes” folder… it can be exhausting. Every time it happens I wonder why I can’t be the kind of person who writes an outline and then actually sticks to it.
But that’s just not the way I roll.
Actually, the first draft of this novel suffered its structural issues primarily because I deviated from my outline in the second chapter of the book with the introduction of an unexpected character, so I think it’s a plot that really doesn’t like being pinned down. I’m amazed I ever got to the end: there were times when I looked at my plot and thought, I can’t fix this. I’ve killed it.
But I did fix it. By thinking. By scrawling illegible notes on a whiteboard. By putting on a Civil Wars album and dancing in the kitchen until I accidentally thought about a relationship within the novel in the context of one of their songs and started crying. By pacing up and down. By poking the plot in all different directions until I found one where it didn’t crash into the wall.
And I don’t know yet whether it worked, entirely. I glanced over my ending earlier, and it looks decent, but I’ll need to give it some space before I come back and evaluate whether I really made the right decision. (Not to mention asking beta readers for comments.) By the time I was finished, my brain was exhausted.
It is noticeable, though, how when I have to think that much about things I’m not passionate about (essays, puzzles, tax problems regarding Amazon), I have a tendency to give up and go to bed. Yet when faced with a stubborn plot at 10pm, I kept going, even though my eyes were closing and I was too tired to type.
If I could only channel that commitment into my work, I wouldn’t be sitting here procrastinating on an essay that I really should have written earlier in the holiday. But I am. Because organisation isn’t how I roll, either.
99,499 words, and that second draft is done. It was exhausting, it was difficult, but it was totally worth it.