Happy Friday the 13th to you all. For you superstitious ones, avoid black cats today, and don't walk under ladders, or break mirrors. For the rest of us, happy Friday.



Ignore the hoomin, we're not bad luck, we're too busy taking over the Internet

 

I had an interesting conversation last night over very good beer with a fellow writer, one who's somewhat starting out, who asked a good question (that proved he was a real writer): "How do you stop?" As in, once you get going, and you have to be someplace, how do you stop writing?

My answer was two fold. In all honesty, I usually write until I'm bleary-eyed and unable to continue, or my head hits the keyboard. Simple truth. Like most writers the act of writing is like mainlining speed; you stop when your nervous system says "fuck this shit" and calls it quits. 



You'll know it's time to stop when you do an interpretive dance in lust for your writing device


 
However, I did have to add on what I knew he was really asking: "you mean like if I have, say an hour, but then have to go to work?"

Conflict is once again the answer. By now if you've read previous posts it should become clear that conflict for the reader is good, but not the main course. For the writer it is a powerful tool. If I could sum up how best to use conflict, it would be thus: conflict is how we best quantify a story.

Hunh? Yeah, in short, writing is an art. Fuck what anyone else says, it's an art. Look at how may authors kill themselves, and tell me it's not an art. However, one unique thing about writing is that those best suited to the craft are equally logical and artistic. To make writing a commercial art you have to apply logic to it, keep it orderly, and quantify it in business terms. Conflict is your gateway.



If your craft leaves you often feeling bitter, angry, depressed, isolated, and violent...it's art and you're doing it right.



 
This earlier post showed you how conflict is magical in editing when you need to increase your word count. If you're smart you will do your conflict pacing before writing. This will help keep you on track so you don't need to spend extra time editing (that will take long enough). However conflict pacing also serves as your time manager for writing.

I've discussed this many times, but cannot over stress the importance of writing a 2-5 page summary and a 25-35 page outline for a full novel manuscript. Let's say you want to write a 70,000 word novel. You will need (for your own use and also for securing an agent) a 3-4 page summary and a 30 page outline.

Write the summary first. Typically you begin by free writing or jotting down a basic idea. The summary will be all the major highlights and will identify your main characters and main plot arc, and help you identify the genre. Now, put that aside and write character bios for all your main protagonists & antagonists. Once that's done and you have a better idea of who you're writing about, write the outline.

Your outline should be parboiled and describe the action in a Cliff's Notes way, excluding dialogue. Write everything: the beginning, middle, end, all the important scenes. Now once that's done, re-write your summary so it "jives" with the outline.

Now comes the last step before writing your masterpiece. Check off the conflict. Use different color ink to identify internal and external conflict. Internal drives character arcs and external rives the plot. Not 100% true, but it holds water enough to be a guiding principle. Use, say, red ink to note external and blue for internal (or if doing all this on the computer highlight the sentences describing the conflict and change the font colors thusly.



If by this step you look this way, you're doing it right

 
  

Now, for budgeting time you need to start when you have plenty of time and nowhere to be. Write from the beginning to the 2nd external conflict (go to the second as typically you will write exposition before the first initial conflict that begins the story, even when writing in media res). Don't mark off chapters yet (although, protip: external conflicts make great chapter breaks). Now that you've written two, count off the pages. Let's say that if writing in the basic format: Times New Roman, 11 point font, double spaces, normal margins, first line indented 0.5" you discover 10 pages elapse between conflicts. Great! almost done, not quite.

To figure out how to budget your time write to the 3rd conflict, but make sure you time yourself. Don't race the clock, write naturally. Now once you're done with this you have the satisfaction of knowing you have your summary, outline, and character bios written, as well as your first 3ish chapters. Plus you have built-in checks now. Quickly take a word count. Take the total and divide by 3 (since you have written to the 3rd conflict). Whatever that number is, go back to your outline and quickly multiply the total number of external conflicts. For example if you have an average of 3,000 words per conflict and you will have a total of 23 conflicts in your story, you take 23x3,000 to get 69,000. If your goal was to write 70,000 words, you're good. If you fall short of your goal, go back and add more conflict to your outline. It's important to remember outlines and summaries will change as you go along.



No one told me I'd need math to write the next Old Yeller.

 

Now let's say you figure out with the way you write it takes 2 hours to write one passage between conflicts. Now, are you the kind of person who can walk away from a passage that isn't complete? If so, why even read this? You're fine, now go suck an egg. For the rest of us, remember you need 2 hours to get from one conclusion point of action to the other. To be clear you will start by writing out the action caused by the previous conflict and in 2 hours you can write up to the introduction of the next conflict.

So if you have 2 hours of downtime, go ahead and write, knowing it will be much easier to stop at the next conflict, a natural resting place. If you have less than the time it takes to write between two conflicts, well, go do chores, play a game, masturbate, do something to kill that time.
 
So now that you know how, my further reply last night will make sense: if you have enough time to write out one conflict cycle, you start. If you don't, go do something else. As with everything in writing, a pat answer to a simple question requires tons of thought and a lot of logistics. In a nutshell, that's writing for you.



Hemmingway knew  it also took raw passion, a rejection of social mores, and balls. That's right, it takes fuckin' BALLS