It used to be that I’d write the first third of a novel, stop and then give up. I’d have thirty or forty thousand words in the bag but I’d get to this stage and feel … like something was off. I cannot tell you how many times I rewrote the first third of The Four Realms. It became a joke amongst friends that I’d never complete it.
Looking back, I can see just how much I did wrong in writing that book. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an awesome book and I love the finished product, but my approach to writing it was very wasteful with my time. Of course, I have the gift of hindsight now, and have spent the last couple of years working hard to improve my efficiency.
I was reminded of this recently working on 4S, my next novel. Whilst it’s still fantasy, it’s a little different to other books I’ve written and those differences are making the process a lot of fun. The characters are working and I’m able to really pace through the vomit draft without really needing to slow down.
But last week I hit a roadblock. I noticed my productivity start to slump and for some reason I felt somehow less enthusiastic about the project. I started to wonder whether I’d rushed into it too early, whether the ideas I had really needed more time to gestate. I started questioning whether it was good.
But you know… writers’ minds are funny. They play tricks on you. Everyone is different and it’s only through the benefit of experience that you can hope to spot the ways your own brain trips you up.
I realised during the writing of Black As Knight that I seem to hit a bit of a roadblock around the act transitions. That is to say, that as the initial set up moves into the meat of the novel, and then again as it moves to the climax, my writing hits a hump. I will hate the novel, want to stop, want to start over again.
I think it has something to do with either the pacing or subtle changes in focus (the first act is all about set up, the middle act is about building out the story, and the final act is about bringing everything to a conclusion.) Whatever it is, I get to those changes and my brain throws a loop.
I’d never have even considered this if it wasn’t for the story of Neil Gaiman phoning up his agent one day and telling them that he hated his current novel, how it as so bad, and how it needed to be scrapped, only for his agent to identify how far through the novel he was. Gaiman asked how the agent knew, and the agent responded, “because you’re always like that when you get to that stage”.
I can’t say for sure that all writers experience it, but it seems pretty common that at some point in the writing, you’ll hate your novel. Knowing how that manifests itself in you and at which stage, is something only you can know. And at that stage, you just have to not trust your brain.
I let myself slow down a little for a few days, aware that I wasn’t getting the productivity I was doing previously anyway, but kept on pushing through.
And you know what? Several days on, I’m through that particular trap, and my pace has picked up again.
It’s weird how your writerly brain works sometimes, but you have to learn what your own personal roadblocks are and not let them derail you. If you have to slow down or change up how you work for a few days then do it, but don’t fall for the trap of listening to your brain telling you to stop.
Personally I think it’s far better to slow down your targets for the day that stop altogether. It’s a lot easy to restart a moving car.
I expect to hit this problem again when I move from the second to third act down the line. Then, like a couple of days ago, I’ll hate the novel and think I should just give up or start again. I’ll ignore it though. There’s not a single problem that can’t be fixed in editing. Just some of problems are easier to fix than others.
So if you’re writing a novel and find yourself suddenly hating it, don’t worry. It might just be your own brain playing tricks with you. Best thing you can do is to carry on writing. I reckon you’ll probably find that things will improve and a couple of days later you’ll wonder why you had an issue at all.