steinbeck 6

Recently found these 6 writing rules according to Steinbeck via The Atlantic. The first two are particularly relevant to where I am with my MA novel at present:

  1.  Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Earlier this year, under the advice of one of my tutors I got sidetracked into redrafting some sections of my novel and I’m kind of wishing I hadn’t as I know they will have to be done again and the redrafting has only served to give me two versions of the scenes through which to wade in search of the actual finished fictional moment. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was breaking Steinbeck’s second rule.

Since then I’ve put my head down and ploughed forward and I seem to be on the final stretch to the finish line (for the first draft at least). As things stand I have about five chapters, give or take, to write. Which means I will be well past the 100,000 word mark by the time I type The End.

I have a horrible feeling, however, that finishing a novel plays out like Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox. Every time I think I’m close to the end I find I have further to go, each small section or chapter reduces the fraction of the whole needed to complete the work but never to zero. I suppose I need to pay more attention to Steinbeck’s first piece of advice and abandon the idea of finishing. And judging by this post on Conrad Williams’ blog I’d probably be better off not watching the word count so closely.

I understand, from reading interviews with novelists, that knowing when a first draft is done can sometimes be problematic and I am certain writing my story in a non-chronological order is partly to blame for some of my meandering over this last stretch of fictional track. At least I have left my final chapter (though not the last thing that happens chronologically) for last.

Anyone interested can keep tabs on my progress via the little blue bar over there on the right. I expect it will tip over the 100% mark but rest assured, whatever the word count, this book will be receiving a merciless edit to get it back in trim, because:

No problem in a novel is too serious. All can be solved with a most merciless edit.

– Chuck Wendig

At this point I am looking forward to being a little merciless.

Flash Gordon Ming