"Son of a bitch, a pulp novel is not supposed to take this long!"
You're right. And by you, I mean me.
I've been working on the Speed Queen sequels for about a year. The second one took about eight months, and still needs a few tweaks before it's publishable. The third one is in a rough draft right now, and won't be ready for a while. Again, tweaking.
Tweaking. If you're a writer, a mechanic, or touring with Al Jourgensen, you know what it means. For writers, it's a blanket, a means of keeping your baby safe, away from prying eyes until it's truly ready. Just a few more tweaks. Change a character name, maybe add a few cryptic nods to other volumes in your series, cut a few band references because who the fuck cares what you were listening to when you wrote the rough draft, etc.
Your draft remains in limbo. You get distracted. You move on, sometimes to another work, sometimes to the new season of whatever your friends are talking about.
Yeah, fuck all that.
You didn't put all those hours, all those words, however precious or shrugtastic, into a rough draft, just to put it under a microscope until you lose interest. We often get stuck in this rut because we forget what we're really doing. Call it grindhouse fiction, call it pulp, call it utter trash, but this kind of writing is not meant to be taken all that seriously.
Think of the most entertaining film you've ever seen. Don't think too long. Right or wrong, the first film to pop in my head is The Big Lebowski. How about Big Trouble In Little China, another movie that grew an audience long after theatrical crowds had given it the finger? Go back another decade with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a bona fide hit (for the mafia, anyway), and full of subtext if you're looking, but not really meant for art dudes.
"Does this guy ever talk about something other than movies?"
Fine. Books and stories. Right now I'm reading Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280, a Texas noir about an asshole sheriff who cheats on his wife and kills people. He's a pathological liar and will probably get his ass kicked. I'm not through with it, so I don't know yet. I know it reminds me of American Psycho because of its first-person point of view and prick protagonist. I know it would make a hell of a movie, especially if a badass European director came to Texas and cast it with locals. Most importantly, it's massively entertaining. It doesn't need a bunch of symbolism and other forced bullshit dragging it down.
So why the fuck is that so hard to remember when we're in the thick of a draft? Or a revision? Why the fuck is it harder to write pure entertainment than artsy blah? Is it the mood we're in? Is it the strength of the coffee we're drinking? (By the way, Death Wish Coffee's Valhalla Java blend will change your life. That's no ad, I just really like their stuff.)
Is it fear?
Fear is the mind-killer, you know. Some dude wrote than in a book about huge worms, that got turned into a movie with horrible special effects, that has since become a classic because of its sheer weirdness. Fuckin' A, right?
Here are a few things I do to conquer fear. And believe me, I'm super fearful. I have only the best fear, you'll see.
Write shitty. Rough drafts only, of course. Write so poorly that you will not speak too good when yer done. Write quickly, get your word count in, and understand that you'll probably cut about half of it, maybe more. This is why your daily word count (the one you try to hit when you're not too busy sleeping in, depressed about elections) should be high. If your chapter would normally be a thousand words, write two thousand. Double up and go fast. You may find yourself hitting that flow state, and that you eventually keep more than you cut.
Write the way you speak. Write the way your friends and family speak. Don't try to force authenticity. If a character says y'all, it's not because they're dumb, but because they've been raised around people who say it all the time. Like you. If a character says unmitigated audacity, maybe they're a Zappa fan. Since this is a rough draft, let it rip, but understand that you'll probably cut a few colloquialisms in the end. (If one goddamn on the page is worth a dozen, then one howdy-howdy is probably worth a hundred.) Again, though, this is about building the block of clay, not carving it. Not yet.
Have a place to write, and don't be afraid to change that place. Some days, you'll be perfectly content in your little office or library or closet. Sometimes you'll want to go out back in the dust and dirt of your garage. Sometimes you'll try Starbucks.
Yeah, I know. "Don't be that guy who's always 'working on his novel' at the coffee shop. Don't be one of those trendy pricks who just has to be seen doing something 'important.'" Fuck that. Write wherever you damn well please. I try to stay away from writing in public because I simply prefer to be at home. But state changes are important for all living things. Your cat doesn't like to be cooped up in one room, no matter how much Fancy Feast is weighing them down. So while you need the rule of having a writing space, you need to break that rule when you feel like it.
I'm a plotter in theory, but a pantser in practice. If you've never heard these terms, a plotter is a writer who meticulously outlines, sometimes down to the shade of a character's black eye. It's the best way to prepare a story or novel. Syd Field's Screenplay was the first book that taught me a decent enough method, and I've gone with variations of it since. I've also picked up a few guides for writing more quickly on Kindle, and they all say the same thing: plot your book first.
The problem I run into, and maybe I'm not alone, is that I can easily lose interest in a project. The longer your prewriting - outlines, character bios, etc. - the less likely I am to stick with it. It's that stupid blanket again. I'm not good enough, the story's shit, all that. And the only reason I get that way is because I know it's going to be hard-ass work, and I already do a bunch of hard-ass work all day. It's the writer's equivalent of window shopping. If you've ever put something in your Amazon cart, then left it there for a month, then decided not to buy it, you know what I'm talking about.
So plot quickly, but understand that you'll be pantsing - as in writing by the seat of your pants - a bit later. Maybe more than a bit. A lot of writers will tell you to stick to your outline, and I agree if the outline doesn't suck. Outlines can be like novels in microcosm: the opening's awesome, the middle is a drag, the ending does its best to wrap things up, however clumsily. The outline is the embryo for your book, but it's not the ten commandments. (Unless you're actually writing the ten commandments, in which case, God's gonna sue your ass. He won't win, of course, because the commandments are public domain. Safe!) Even if you don't write for a living, you should have fun while you write. Many writers say they enjoy drafting more than editing, because they can la-dee-da and go places. (I'm the opposite. I prefer editing. I also take my coffee black and still listen to cassettes.) Maybe this crime saga needed killbots after all. The outline said drones, but that got old, so let it rip. Plot first, but if your voice tells you to deviate from the plot, then deviate. Pretend you're writing a Choose Your Own Adventure book.
Have Something Else to work on. Sometimes you need to get away from that monolith, Moon Watcher. That's why I'm on GeekFeed. That's why I have this blog. Regular writing in other areas can be a dangerous deviation from the Big Thing, but it also jostles regions of the brain you probably weren't using. I love to write film reviews because it gives me an excuse to analyze story, character, structure, mood, even music. Would I have seen The BFG or even The Neon Demon if I hadn't committed to writing a review later? I doubt it, and I'd have been poorer for it. Not monetarily, but as a writer. (I'm always monetarily poor. No, I don't use Kickstarter. Buy my book.) As for the blog, I'm not crazy about blogging as a means of preparing for your daily Big Thing. I am, however, doing that right now. Coffee helps.
If your Something Else is another piece of fiction, try to make it as different from the Big Thing as you can. I'm writing a grindhouse novel right now, the third in a series. I've also spent alternate sessions working on a weird western tale. One is action-adventure, the other pure fantasy. One has technology, the other magic. Both are in third person, which I may want to change, seeing as the western's main character is in every scene. Mix it up. Write a comedy sketch. Write songs. Make music or videos, like I've done in the past. Just don't forget the Big Thing.
If you use Facebook (and I do, but I prefer Twitter if I don't know you, so don't be upset), use it for the best reasons. I've wasted tons of valuable writing time trying to convince people that Donald Trump is, quite publicly, trying to turn this beautiful country into one of his abandoned, bankrupt businesses. He's using a divide and conquer strategy, one of the hallmarks of totalitarian fuckheadism. He's a fraud, and I think you're smart enough to know that. Is everyone? Nah. Don't waste your time. That goes for any argument: Marvel vs. DC, new Star Trek vs. old, which way to roll your toilet paper. Maybe some of it matters. Maybe none of it. Compare it to your Big Thing, how it's waiting for you to finish and get it out there. Compare that argument to your first Amazon review, which you wouldn't have gotten if you'd wasted a bunch of time arguing over the benefits and drawbacks of disposable razors. Are those paragraphs worth it?
Finish your book. Get it edited. Get a cover. Publish. Move on to the next one. Build a body of work that will entertain readers. Commit to quality, and maybe someone will recognize it. Love yourself, and maybe they'll love you back. If they don't, their loss.
I think that's a big enough blog for today. As usual, sorry I've been away for so long. I'll try to get more of this stuff out there. If you read this and enjoy it, let me know on Twitter, @southboundcine. (I'm not ready for comments on the blog itself. Too much spam to fuck with.) Stay up, baby.