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Uphill all the way down

My brain is full of science, but I’ve also been writing fiction, trying to write a couple hundred words a night. That’s not much — I can write 10,000 on a really good day if I’m remarkably motivated and already know what happens — but it’s something. Science takes a lot of brain power, and there’s only so much to go around.

Even that tiny bit is work. I’m writing a science fiction story, and I have a backdrop and opening that make me happy, and an ending that both fits and provokes, and I can’t for the life of me connect them. I’ve already tried and discarded a range of middles, and none of them work. There has to be a way for A to meet B.


I mean, with an opening line like, “A can-can line of blue elephants gyrated through the wormhole void,” how can I go wrong? Lots of ways, apparently.

Then there’s novel revisions, a whole different class of struggle. Confession time: I finished the first draft in January. I haven’t even read the whole thing yet.


I could make excuses, but really. I can’t even read a single short novel in five months? The draft is under 80k, after all.

Apparently not.

I know what I need to do to it. In the process of writing the first draft, I figured out the major themes and motivations and character points, and now I need to go back and work them in in such a way that it looks like they’ve already been there. I know all the major plot points, all the twists and turns, the underlying political and social structure, what distinguishes my story from Standard Fantasy Plot B (I hope).

More mechanically, I need to take out two POV characters: my neat parallel POV structure relating age and gender doesn’t work, and needs to go. That’s not a big deal. I also need to make sure the sentence-scale writing matches my current ability level, greatly improved since I started the project. I can handle that; mechanics don’t scare me.

It’s all that other stuff. It all fits together so beautifully in my head, and there’s no way I can make it do the same on paper. I read enough author blogs to know that not only am I not alone in this, it’s pretty much universal.

That inability to bring the elegant concept to life on paper isn’t unique to novels. Short stories are easier, though, because the concept is by necessity simpler. Not that short story writing is easier, but managing 3000 words of theme and concept is a less-daunting task than managing 80k, or 100k. There’s room for a lot more, and a novel needs its full quota of stuff if it’s going to be any good. The time and skullsweat investment for a short story is a lot less too. I can manage several week-long rewrites, but even contemplating several multimonth rewrites is nearly impossible.

Nonfiction has the same requirement, if expressed and executed differently, but I’ve been writing professional-level nonfiction for a long time and I know how to do it. And I’m starting to grasp the techniques for short stories. I suppose that means that I can learn them for novels.

But I have to read the damned thing first, don’t I?


  1. Eric says:

    I feel your pain, for what it’s worth.

  2. Sarah says:


    It’s occasionally reassuring when other writers agonize in public, so once in a while I do it myself.

    But I try to not make a habit of it. Except lately.

  3. Laura says:

    Well, it gives all your loyal supporters a chance to chime in and say You Can Do It!