Surviving Vertigo

SF writer and journalist Gareth L Powell made this timely comment:  Just as you climb a mountain one step at a time,
you have to keep putting one word after another if you want to write a book

He’s quite right. Writing a novel is also like batting to save a cricket match. One ball at a time, one over at a time, one seesion at a time. Looking too far ahead spells disaster. But the novelist, having to be all-seeing and all-powerful, sometmes has no option but to look up from the detail. 

I used to compare writing a novel to an impressionist painting, but there’s a better metaphor, I’ve now realized. A novel is like a picture made up of 100,000 pixels, with each representing a pixel. Miss out a thousand words, and you have a picture with a hole in its whole.

And today I looked up and was paralyzed, as if my wall had been put on its side and was Everest-high.

I had fallen behind from my (admittedly) self-imposed target of 1400 words a day by the end of August. I had had to work in the morning, whereas I like to write before the day’s smorgasbord of irritations, distractions and events can fill my head and push out all thoughts of Terraformers and Pantropists.

Worse, when I awoke this morning, I realized that my chapter outline wasn’t going to work — so not only was I 600 words behind, but I had no idea how to write my 1400 for today, let alone catch up the backlog.

The answer? Stare harder at the pixels. What’s missing? Some necessary detail on motivation. Why is the hero a mercenary? Why has the heroine come to do her duty on a world that doesn’t like her? How do I show that the hero is gengineered? Through conflict, of course. There’s another mini-scene. One word at a time. One sentence at a time. One day at a time.

When you feel that awful sense that you’re going to fall and/or fail, stare hard at the detail and fill those pixels in.

3 Responses to “Surviving Vertigo”

  1. Joey says:

    Well said! I’ve looked at that mile high wall a few times, and redrafted the plot to try and build some kind of ladder. It’s a horrible feeling. I just keep telling myself, every word I write is a word closer to the end…

  2. Sharon says:

    Would suggest that perhaps each book deserves its own metaphor? How does writing this book compare to the others you’ve written? This will be the fourth book I’ve ‘observed’ you write. Would be interested to know. And, yes, I still owe you a crit. Hopefully, by Tuesday, latest.

  3. Colin says:

    Each of the last three has been like a race against the clock, with Black Death perhaps being the toughest. With Ultramassive I’ve felt far more comfortable in general which made last Saturday’s mini-crisis notable enough to generate a post.

    By contrast Winter Song was much more like a roller-coaster, since for the first three months of writing it, we were fighting a losing battle to nursemaid our springer through illness. When we had to concede to the inevitable, the novel became my way of shutting that out.

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• June 26th, 2010 • Posted in General • Comments: 3