The 25,000 Word Curse and How I’m Learning to Break It

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I’d share a secret with you non-writer types. If you’ve ever tried to scare a writer through “conventional” means, you soon found out that the writer species is so jaded, so obsessed with the unusual, that monsters and beasties of the dark have no outward effect. 

However…

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If you lean in closely, so close that only they can hear what you say and whisper these words: vast middle, you will see their skin prickle and shivers of terror pulse through their body.

As writers, we all have that point in our WIP’s that we feel the wheels begin to slow, the burst of genius flare less frequently, and the words come in useless couplets. Mine, as you may have guessed, begins at around the 25,000 word point.

It never fails.

With my novel, REAPER, once I hit that cursed word count, it was like the power went out in my head. It’s my head, so I knew where everything was (including that freaky bastard that likes to hide in the darkest corners), but without the light, I fumbled through my thoughts in search of the ones I needed. What started as a sprint out of the gate because a slow, agonizing crawl across upturned thumbtacks. It became so disheartening that I abandoned the project to pursue a new shiny idea (which, of course, led straight into the ground and now sits, molding, in my “NO FUCKING CLUE” folder). It took a month before I was able to swallow my anxiety and dive back in. 

Later, I hit the same wall with a WIP called THE BOOKSELLER. And now, with my current and longest-running perpetual WIP, SACRIFICIAL LAMB CAKE, I find myself at 26,327 words with dry mouth and a broken light bulb. 

If I told you that I wasn’t tempted to walk away from it in favor of plotting my NaNoWriMo project, I’d need an army of sexy lady firefighters to put out my pants. Actually, now that I think about it…

No. No fire ladies. Words. (Dammit).

Unlike THE BOOKSELLER, I haven’t completely hit a wall with this one. I know where it’s going and I can see it taking shape with each few excruciating sentences. I know my characters. I know the story. I know that it’s going to be great – if I could just fucking finish it. I’m a sculptor with a tiny hammer hacking away at a mountain of marble. Each time I get angry enough with it to throw it in a fire, I pep talk myself, using REAPER as an example. I wrote it. I polished it. I sold it. I proved to myself that I’m fully capable of creating something fantastic, so now there are no excuses. Only frustration.

Each day, I do something, change something, in order to try to relieve some of that frustration. Below are 5 things I’ve discovered help me get through the writing day. Maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Realize that no two writers are created equal and that there is NO RULE that says you have to finish in an allotted amount of time. Get a feel for your own pace and keep with it. It will change every day, and that’s perfectly fucking fine.

2. When writing at night stopped doing it for me, I changed up my routine, opting for mornings at a coffee shop. A change of scenery has a HUGE impact on how the brain works. Now that I’m slowing again, I’m looking for a new writing spot to relight that spark.

3. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t write something that day. Granted, if you’re knee deep in a project, it’s unlikely you’ll go the entire day without at least scrawling a note on the palm of your hand while sitting at a red light. BUT, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. There’s no reason to punish yourself for it. You know those times when you can’t for the life of you remember the answer to a question that’s been plaguing you all day and then – BAM – it comes to you at three in the morning? That’s because you stopped bashing it to a pulp and let your subconscious sift through the brain cave. Writing works by the same principle. 

4. Work on something else. I don’t mean abandon the project; I mean allow yourself to explore ideas completely unrelated to what you’re primary focus has been. It’ll allow your subconscious to do the sifting AND you don’t have that guilty feeling for being unproductive. For me, my side project has been hashing out my NaNo book. It’s been fun and I’m looking forward to writing it.

5. Blog about it. Or, if that’s too much like writing for your fragile psyche to handle, email or call a writer friend and vent about it. If there’s a particular plot issue making you homicidal, they’ll work through it with you.

There they are. If you have ideas to add, please do. We could ALL use the help. 

 

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One thought on “The 25,000 Word Curse and How I’m Learning to Break It

  1. My wall usually comes around 40K words. This is because endings kill me. I start to worry I’ve missed something and the ending I’ve decided on won’t work. I change it a dozen times (at least) and sometimes I drop it completely.

    I do most of what you do to try to break through the block, but I also just write it. I force myself to ignore the awfulness I’m certain is there, and just write whatever comes into my head for the next 40K words. And it usually works. It just takes some convincing for my subconscious to say “okay, fine. Let’s do this shit.”

    Another thing I do, when writing through the wall isn’t going so well, is to do a spreadsheet of every chapter and scene. I usually “see” the problem, and continue once I’ve done that.

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