Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Why do I write so slowly?

Someone made an interesting comment on my last posting. Who do I write so slowly? It must be admitted: a year or more is a hell of a long time to take per chapter.

On the other hand, they're pretty big chapters. Not novel-length, most of them (though chapter 9 actually was the size of a short novel, and chapter 14 is getting into that territory), but still pretty damn big. Back when I started, my goal was to keep each chapter around the 50-60K mark—say, 8000-10,000 words—and put one out every month or so. That lasted until chapter 5, which was double-length; and after that, you might say, the rot set in.

Still, a year is a long time to take to put out 50,000 words. It would be nice to think that they're good words, and that they're worth the wait; and the fact that some of you have been reading this story since the early chapters and actually have been waiting, suggests that you might actually agree. Sometimes I'm even egotistical enough to think so myself. I take my time writing, but I think that the extra thinking time helps me put a good deal more depth in what I'm saying. The early chapters of SM4200 are fast-written and fast-moving, but they're not exactly deep.

Still, I'm a slow writer.

I didn't use to be. When I started writing fan fiction, I was as enthusiastic as all hell. For my first few stories, I was often putting out a chapter a day.

Then I hit the turning point.

If you read a lot of fan fiction, you've probably seen this before. There are plenty of writers who start turning out terrific stories: gripping, wonderfully characterised, with fascinating, well-tuned, complex interlocking plots; you can't read them fast enough. Then one day, you notice that the chapters are taking a little longer to appear. And then, suddenly, the story stops half-way through, and you never hear from the writer again. Sound familiar?

But why? There can be a multitude of reasons. Maybe he simply got a new hobby. Maybe she hit a point where the story wouldn't gel, and decided to take a break to think it over, and never quite got moving again. Maybe he became so absorbed with keeping the quality up while trying to keep the story alive that he suddenly realised that it was taking over his life, and that it just wasn't worth it for a fanfic. Maybe she got writer's block…or a new romance…or a million other things. What they all add up to is: the writer hit a turning point, and after she went on with her life, writing fan fiction got left behind on the far side of the corner.

I've hit lots of turning points over the course of writing SM4200. The biggest one, by far, was chapter 9. It was so big, and so emotionally wracking to write (it sounds trite, but I'm not exaggerating) that it took me forever to finish, simply because there were numerous times along the way when I simply couldn't bear to go back to it. And by the time I did finally finish, I'd lost the writing habit…but more importantly, I'd lost the enthusiasm for writing fan fiction. It had became something that I wanted to have done, but no longer something that I wanted to do.

I have not, however, yet lost the enthusiasm for reading fan fiction. And, above all, I have not lost the enthusiasm for this particular story. It's taking me forever, and I've devoted an enormous part of my life to SM4200 and I'm not at all sure that it's been worth it—but by God I want to see this story finished.

So. I don't write very fast. Or, actually, all that often. I have a life outside writing, and sometimes I'm just more interested in pursuing other things. I go through spasms: periods when I'm writing consistently, almost every day, and then quiet periods when I may not touch a word for weeks. But always, for more than a decade now, I come back to it.

Barring sudden death, or similar hazards, SM4200 will someday be finished. I hope, if you stick around until then, that you'll think that it's been worth the ride.

By the way…I managed to get a little writing time in this evening, for the first time in a week. (For once, the delay hasn't been all my fault.) Chapter 14 has hit 50,000 words. Scary big territory. This is going to be the second-biggest chapter to date, at least.