Your Only Goal Is To Get Out Alive

Man, I forgot what it’s like to be hip-deep in a novel.

Here’s what writing a novel’s like for me:

It’s a fucking gauntlet.

You start here, on this green circle, and you run all the way over there to that red ‘X.’

It’s like, mmm, a two-to-ten mile trip.

And the whole way, you’re going to get your ass beat. You’ll face ninjas with cricket bats. Big dudes will chuck rocks at your head and balls. Badgers will try to eat your feet. From all sides come fists and Frisbees and flying rodents, and they all want a piece of your misery.

Your only goal is to get to the X. That’s it. You’re not trying to make the best time. You’re not trying to run the gauntlet with finesse. No goddamn tricky dance moves. No judges wait in the wings to hold up score cards. This is not a test of your ability. That comes later. Now is a test of your endurance.

How much can you endure?

You want to just lay down. You just want to rest your tender throbbing head down on a stone and let them pummel your dumb fool ass into sweet blood-pulp oblivion.

The only thing you can and should hope for is that you make it through the gauntlet alive. You have to, day after day, keep picking up your face — which by now looks like a garbage bag filled with condoms and rusty water after it was run through the gastrointestinal tract of a fucking rhinoceros — and leveling your eye on the prize way off in the distance…

The X, the X, always the X.

Run, fucker, run.

Through the gauntlet. Through the haunted house. Down past the nightmare. Through the crowds of grabbing hands and angry shouts. Feet in the mire. Rain in your eyes.

What you soon realize is that all your training and all the stuff you hold important about the craft is basically out-of-sight: you can’t stop and think about that shit when a Viking berserker’s trying to whack your brains out with an axe handle. What you hope is true that you’ve internalized it, that when you go back and read the things you wrote after you touchdown on that life-saving red X you don’t find a mish-mash of nonsense, like some insane aphasia manifesto, some gibbering garbagey gobbledygook. You pray that what waits on the page is something cogent, something sensible, and something that maybe kinda sorta resembles the things you once learned.

But that, that is a good thing. You don’t want to stop and think about it. You stop and think, you ruin it. You’ll look over it and say, “I hate this. I hate me. I’m not [insert awesome writer] here. I’m as worthless as a short-sleeved straitjacket. I’m low like a worm. Hit me again, ninja-with-cricket-bat. Hit me again because gosh and golly I jolly well fucking deserve it.”

You don’t stop to think because that’s when the fear catches up to you.

And fear is, as we know, the mind-killer.

So you keep on running because the badgers and the Vikings, the bruises and the ruptured organs, they’re all better than the fear that hunts you, the fear with the gnashing teeth, the fear with the gnarly fur.

You just want to make it to the X.

You just want to get out alive.

(At least, that’s the first draft.)

(Let’s not even talk about the second draft, shall we? Remember. No stopping to think, tsk tsk tsk.)

So, that’s where I’m at. Head down, running for the X, hoping to get out of this book alive.

And loving it all the way.

Howzabout you crazy kids? Sound off. Status updates, pronto. What’s everybody working on? I don’t want to feel alone out here. Let’s all gather around the campfire (or water cooler if you’d prefer something a wee smidge more pedestrian). Gimme the news. Whatchoo got going on? Projects, process, progress.


  • Augh, you had to ask, didn’t you?

    Like, nothing. Or, next to nothing. I mean, I’ve got this thing going where I put out two pieces of flash per month to all seven people who visit my blog, and I plug at it and plug at it and I rarely every get any sort of linkbacks or comments. I’ve been doing that for several months and I’m just about ready to give up on it. It’s great practice, sure, but it’s distracting me from what I should be doing, and that’s actually putting words down on a novel project.

    I actually have two ideas. One was cultivated in the warm waters of Nanowrimo, and one is the hair-brained idea I had that made me catch the writing bug to begin with. The first beat its 50,000 word goal and promptly fluttered and died. The other was written with such poor direction that I perfrmed a mercy killing. I need to re-imagine both of them and figure out which one I’m going to work on. The first can be completed faster just because it’s a more solid concept with some actual passages already written for it. The second will have to be re-done from the ground up and has some really serious questions that I just don’t have the answers to.

    So, I’m flailing wildly in many useless manners.

    • @BL:

      My feeling on short fiction is that it *can* be a drain on your intellectual energy, and serve as a distraction from other work.

      Also, don’t feel so bad about the lack of looks at online fiction: I find that’s a tricky thing to maintain. The thing about fiction is, I suspect people want to read it only when they’re in the mood — and their time on the Internet may not be representative of that mood.

      In terms of the novels, I’d say throw together an outline and get cracking. No time like the right now.

      — c.

  • Chapter 1 is finally finished, after what… five months? Four?

    First draft Chapter 1.

    Got some good suggestions from a couple dudes from the lunch table.

    TEMPTED to go back in now to apply them.

    So tempted it feels like someone needs to strap my hands down.

    But instead I’m going to move onto Chapter 2.

    • @Julie:

      Hey, progress is progress. How long is Chapter One?

      And yeah, my advice is to hold off editing until — well, until it’s done.

      Don’t stop.

      Run for the red X.

      Bolt through the gauntlet.

      — c.

    • @Julie —

      Not to be a soul-crushing reality hammer, but doing some quick math, that means at that pace you will have a novel written after 12-and-a-half years.

      If you could increase that output to 2k per week, you could have a novel in the same time it takes to blow a baby gasket: about nine months.

      That’s the thing about novel-writing: it’s about output, it’s about getting to the finish line. Nothing else matters.

      — c.

  • Yeah. I know. I did the math too.

    I’m not exactly happy about the situation. Went off yesterday. Don’t think it mattered, to be honest.

    And now I’m going to go stomp down the welling resentment again.

  • Even when you get to X, you can’t stop there.

    You’ve pounded out the steps. Green circle’s far behind. The X is under your feet. Time to celebrate, right?

    Well, don’t get too carried away. Once you’ve written the thing, you need to revise it. Rewrite it. Write it again.

    You’ll be circling back to that green circle to head towards that X more times than you care to think on it.

    • @Josh —

      I’ll… kind of disagree? Yes, your job is far from over, and I think we all know that, but what goes on after the novel is finished is really nothing like that first go through. It’s no longer a desperate trek to the end — now, nuance, finesse, ability. They all come into play. Writing is rewriting. A writer’s arsenal of talents are brought to bear on the first draft, but his skills (the things he has learned) go to bat during the second.

      The first draft requires a sledgehammer, the subsequent drafts require scalpels, each smaller and sharper than the last.

      — c.

  • I’ve more or less wrapped up the ‘rules’ for the game I’m working on, and giving that section of the book an editing run (I can’t understand my own English in one or two places…) while finishing plotting and research for the boxed setting. The goal was to have the completed rough draft done by end of July, but that is looking more and more impossible of late. So I guess I just need to keep pressing on and try.

  • I’m working on a novel that sublimates racial tensions in South Dakota in 1960 with a demonic invasion and kidnapping of a half-blood kid, and the family who tries to stop the invasion. It’s based on my family’s history, which makes me nervous.

  • 40K-ish words, the red X in sight on the horizon, but I’m stymied, drained, and kind of under a dog-pile of ninjas and pink elephants. But that’s ok, I’m not expecting a masterpiece. Hell, I don’t really have expectations of this one landing me an agent or a contract. I just need to get there, damn it. So the next one can be better.

    A shovel would be helpful though.

  • My increasingly vague memories of writing my novel in 1990 involve sitting in a tiny cold room all winter, wearing gloves and typing away on the Atari ST, listening to the Twin Peaks soundtrack. There was a single-mindedness that I wish I could recapture, though to be honest it was born of (literally) madness at the time. I remember the story burning away at the heart of me, demanding to come out.

    Good, if crazy, times.

    These days it feels more difficult, especially in the middle of something. The initial excitement has turned to a kind of dread. Eventually only bloody-mindedness sees it through.

    No one warned me that being a writer would be like this.

  • Funny, I met with the people still in town in my screenwriting class last night and we discussed the same thing. We all had similar answers of “not doing as much work as we’d like”. But meeting with them definitely sparked ideas.

    I’m currently about… thigh or calf deep in a western horror. I had to go back to the drawing board for some of it, and I’m really liking the emphasis on the SOLITUDE. Westerns are, in many ways, defined by this feeling of wide open space, of being out on the frontier without any connection to the civilized world. And as someone who has gotten stuck on the interstate between Austin and San Antonio, that can be TERRIFYING.

    My job precludes some writing time, but I also know that’s kind of just an excuse. I need to be more… vigorous with hacking out time to write. I mean, I have a netbook I bring to work, for Thor’s sake. I can work during lunch.

  • I’m currently going through revisions on the script for the video game Conduit 2. Alongside that, I’m revising a short story, drafting a second, and looking over at my novel outlines, hoping I’ll have a chance to at least get 10k words on one before my birthday next month.

  • I’m happy and scared to say I’m about 5K from finishing my first draft. Happy because I’m actually about to finish the first draft of my first novel. Scared because I’ve had blinders on the whole way. Yeah, I definitely couldn’t look back because fear was on my heels the whole way.

    It’s tempting to peek back now, but I won’t. One good weekend or a normal week of writing to go and then I can observe the aftermath.

    Yeah, thinking ahead to round two is both exciting and nauseating.

    • Damn, @Michelle, that is exciting. Early congrats. :)

      One piece of advice: do not immediately look back over the draft. Your memories will be skewed. Give it at least a week. A month or two if you can stand it. Get some distance.

      — c.

  • Good grief, I feel like lazy slothgirl now. I haven’t been able to get my ass in gear enough to write a couple restaurant reviews that I am seriously overdue on. And I’m talking like 1,000 words or less. My green circle and red x are almost on top of each other. Ok, you have all inspired me. I am going to go write one…NOW.

  • Status Update, then. Mostly involving the Desolation RPG supplement we’ve been working on. 144 pages completed in about four months of on and off writing. I ended up getting the lead writer credit this time, so I probably provided about 35-40k of the book, including setting, system and fiction. Funtastic.

    Obviously, some other projects have taken a back seat to get this out. I’m just about ready to go back to my novel. A six month break was completely necessary as the book was starting to get way too mixed up with actual real life. Semi-autobiographic stuff can be hard, it seems, when you start writing things into reality just as much as the other way around.

  • At the last minute, I pulled the trigger on a trip to GenCon. I’d like to have some one-shots ready to run from my hip pocket for friends. I’m going to try and have three ready. Brief thumbnails:

    1) A 4E D&D Dark Sun scenario, involving the Veiled Alliance, shadow giants, a ruined city in the sand, and captured slaves. I’m striving for a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” vibe, but conscious that it’s a con one-shot. It’s hopefully going to be short, fast-paced thriller of a game.

    2) A Mouse Guard scenario. I’m a fan of this game, based on the Mouse Guard comic and built from the Burning Wheel engine. The players take on the role of members of the Mouse Guard, which is a combination of a Texas Ranger and a park ranger. They protect the Mouse Territories from weasels and other obvious threats, in addition to keeping trails open, running the mail, and generally assisting mice outside the towns as they go about their business. I’m leaning towards a scenario where the PCs must reestablish a portion of the Scent Border, which is refreshed every spring in order to keep weasels and other, larger animals from invading the Mouse Territories.

    3) A Dresden Files RPG scenario. This one is very vague at the moment. I like FATE and how Dresden has applied FATE to the urban fantasy genre. I’m not at all familiar witht he source material, though. I’ll probably end up using the rules to run my own urban fantasy game without reference to the Dresdenverse. My ideas for this scenario are utterly vague.

    If you or anyone else has any scenario tips or components to suggest for inclusion, I’m all ears! By the way, are you GenCon bound this year, Chuck?

    • @Dave: Damn, man, no Gen Con for me. Hard to justify the cost, really. I don’t know that I’d get much work out of it, and it also comes around the same 7-10 day period in which we’re moving to a new house.

  • Just about done with cleanup on MAMMMON, at which point off it goes to Stacia Decker. I’ll be interested to see what she thinks we should do with it, seeing as how it’s book two in a series and we haven’t sold book one, which I’m still rewriting based on feedback from editors. It’s like pin the tail on a moving donkey — a nasty donkey that’s spent a lot of time in donkey prison and really doesn’t like people messing around behind it anymore.

  • As it turns out, a lot more autobiographical that I’d expected. I mean, it’s set back in Belfast, during the 80s and 90s, and is all based upon real life experiences, but the line between fact and ficition sometimes get a bit blurry, especially when extraordinary things happen in your real life (which they have) and make the story seem dull.

  • I currently have two projects on the go. In the first one I’m bogged down somewhere around the 17k mark, trying to figure out a) how to get from band practice to kidnapping and b) if I have enough material to make it to 80k or if this thing is destined to be a novella instead.

    The second one is for a contest, and had a definite deadline. Panic. Especially since my concept here is taking a bit more research than I anticipated. On the bright side, mainly because of things I’ve read here (thank you!) I have a better idea on how to outline, which ought to make the whole thing run just a little bit more smoothly.

  • Shame, Chuck. Ships in the night and all that (in a purely platonic, bro-tastic sort of a way. I have no sexual feelings for you. That I will admit publicly.)

    I remember talking to Mearls about GenCon and how so much of it for him at the time was hustling for gigs (this was before he was the King of D&D). For me, it was a chance to game and have fun. For him, it was mostly work.

  • @Dave:

    Dude, that’s it, it’d be all work for me. I mean, not all work. In fact, it’d probably be a lot of fun. Which would make me feel guilty for not working. If I thought I could get some work out of it, I might go. And if I thought I had a place to stay. And could afford it. And and and.

    — c.

  • Moving has thrown a monkeywrench into the machine of my writing. I’m behind on Eternal Lies, behind on Razed, and behind on the script, because I sort and pack when I should be writing. I can’t even chart where I am on the novel, the comic script, or my indie RPG, because that would break my heart. Part of it is that I just have too many plates spinning at once, so even when I make good progress somewhere, it feels like something else has gone deeper into the hole.

    Things’ll get better after Gen Con, though. Right?

  • Will,

    If I may attempt a hijack, I’m actually rooming at GenCon with one “Jeff Tidball”, courtesy of a love connection made by Mearls. I believe you know the gentleman? ;)

    If you’ll be at GenCon, I’ll try and look you up. Will you be at a particular booth? WWGS/CCP? I’ll be at the FreeMarket/Burning Wheel booth for some of the time, shilling for those guys.

    See what you’re missing, Chuck? Join us….

  • Hey, Dave.

    I know Jeff and Mearls, both, though I see entirely too little of either.

    I’ll be easily found at the IPR booth, most afternoons, where I’m working during the show. I’m also in and out of meetings and drumming up work—you know the drill—so those afternoon shifts are probably the best way to find me. Or, you know, just have Jeff call me on the phone and arrange something.

    I’m sure I’ll swing by the FreeMarket booth, too, as I am intensely curious about that thing.

  • Oh man, I love the ninjas and Vikings! What a rush, man!

    I’m six days and 7K into my latest novel. My MC is a 15yo trying to escape the sex industry. Cross-dressing, a girls’ school, and possibly a cheerleading contest will figure prominently. I don’t know how I ever convince myself to do anything but write.

    Which is probably why I have so many first-drafts lying around. Half of them have never been edited–after spending the last six months editing three of them.

  • I made it past the Vikings, ninjas and badgers tattered, but alive. Now I’m facing a giant octopus wielding a sledgehammer in each of its tentacled appendages and there’s a sheer ice-covered cliff at my back. I had no idea the second draft would be so much scarier than the first.

    • @Monnie:

      Second draft is equal parts scarier and more freeing — as you gain distance, you gain the freedom to just start beating the hell out of it without feelings of personal connection. But you need that space.

      The writing is always in the rewrite.

      — c.

  • Just got word this week that I’d been accepted to the Viable Paradise workshop this fall! Which is good, because writing-wise, the week’s been a wash: my last on-submission short fiction wasn’t accepted, and I just got some more outline/notes work done for this novel. It’s almost done, I think, but I’ve got some more planning and some character info to write before I can really start writing, I think.

  • Oops, didn’t see your reply earlier. (Is there a way to subscribe to comments for an individual post?)

    Viable Paradise is a 1 week SF/F writing workshop held every year at Martha’s Vineyard. The students I’ve talked to all hold it in high regard.

  • Well this’ll make me feel like a slacker. Finished draft one of last year’s nano and did a speed-edit for only typos and the worst of the plotholes in the beginning. Sitting at almost 104k, don’t want to look at it ever again. Have half of a script I started for NaNo’s sister program, Scriptfrenzy, involving a technophobic girl attempting to go to college and build relationships and not go insane. Have a Serious Project Idea involving angels and demons and a future alternate earth with the impending birth of the Antichrist that’s in the works with the 2 Year Novel class on Forward Motion, but I’m approximately, oh, 20 weeks behind on classes because school and life and finishing said NaNo project ate me. Am also trying to get a leash (or at least tie a rope around to be dragged along by) the book that comes after said NaNo project, and the entire world and characters within.

    The only thing that’s even remotely progressing is the last one, and that’s at a creep and a crawl. One would think that during the summer when I have nothing else to do (most days) I’d actually get something done. Huh.

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