By Shawn Coyne | Published: June 28, 2013
You’ve been thinking about writing a long form Story (novel, narrative nonfiction, essay) for as long as you can remember. You have this very specific and fascinating lead character in mind and you’ve been spinning ideas about his story driving in your car, riding the subway, even while having your teeth cleaned. One day (for some reason it’s usually a Saturday) you finally resolve to sit down and write your book. You have a clear notion of what the beginning will be, so you plunge right in.
The first day is amazing.
The paragraphs fly by in the first couple of hours. You force yourself to take a break for lunch. Was it Hemingway or Fitzgerald that recommended you leave your work in media res so that you have fuel to keep going when you pick it up again? No matter, whoever it was, was spot on! Your husband asks you how it’s going and you tell him how you can’t believe you’ve waited this long to write your book.
After you chomp down a tuna fish salad sandwich, you head back to your desk and read what you’ve written in the morning. Doesn’t Steve Pressfield recommend that you “cover the canvass” as quickly as you can in your first draft? But you can’t help yourself. I mean really, you do need to know where you’ve been to keep moving forward right?
There are run on sentences, lousy metaphors and really lame dialogue.
But you made a promise to yourself not to quit. You’re going to beat down Resistance and be a pro. You resist the temptation to edit yourself and pick up where you left.
Having skipped a sit down dinner in favor of forking the leftover tuna fish from lunch down your gullet in between sentences, you finish the first chapter late that night. While you are less excited than you were at lunch time, you still think you’re on the right track. There are certainly many rounds left to go, but with just a little bit of inspiration (and what’s better inspiration than forcing yourself to sit at your writing desk) you feel you can knock this thing out. You will grind on it until it’s done. No question.
You sleep well.
Day Two. You’ve got that first chapter down and you’re wondering where you should take the story next. You jot down some ideas, but none seem to really light your fire. You take heart knowing that you already have a rough chapter done, a good 3,000 words. You wonder how many finished book pages that would be so you pull a few books off the shelf and count how many words are set in one page for a typical published book. It’s around 300 words per page, so you actually have a solid 10 pages of book length copy. You then calculate how many pages most books are and discover that they are between 200 to 350 pages. So you actually have a good 3 to 5% of your book done.
You break for lunch. Your husband asks you how it’s going (Why does he keep asking that! Doesn’t he know how irritating it is to be asked how it’s going all the time?) And you can’t help yourself. You tell him about your calculations.
Back to work. Still nothing for Chapter Two. Dammit! You figure why not polish Chapter One while you wait for ideas for Chapter Two to percolate? Didn’t you read somewhere that agents always ask for just the first one or two chapters before they agree to read your whole book? So polishing that first one isn’t so stupid, really. If it’s going to give agents the first impression of your skills, it better knock their socks off.
So you begin to polish Chapter One.
You don’t get through 500 words.
By the end of the day, you’re now second guessing the entire hook for the story. You also discover that you had no subconscious inspiration for Chapter Two while you worked on the Chapter One edit and you have no idea of where to go from here.
Plus tomorrow you have to go back to work. You know your job! The thing that pays half of the bills around here!
The next Saturday, you do everything but go near that writing desk. The shed in the backyard wasn’t going to just clean itself now was it? And you promised your husband you’d go see IRONMAN 3 on Sunday afternoon. So that weekend’s shot.
How did your husband know that it was better not to ask you how it’s going on your book?
A week later, you archive the file in your computer and decide that it’s obvious that you need more time to map out the next section of the book. You’ll wait until you figure out Chapter Two before you sit down again.
Five years later, you stumble upon the file while cleaning up your hard drive. You read what you’ve written. It’s embarrassing.
A case study in intellectual masturbation.
You hit delete.
Am I right?