Keep Going

When I was a little kid, I used to go hiking with my dad. Being not very patient, I would often ask, "How much further until we get there? How far until the top?" My dad never got frustrated with me (amazingly), instead, he would just tell me, "Just a little farther." Sometimes he would give me milestones. "I bet we'll be at the turn in fifteen minutes," or "Half an hour to the lean-to," he would say. Half an hour would go by, and I would ask again. "Ten minute to go," he would say. His estimates weren't always accurate, but they were motivational. They told me we we're making progress. They gave me hope that we would arrive at the summit, that we would make it home.

Writing a novel is kind of the same way. I have no idea how long it will take me to finish. I don't even have a good idea how long it will take me to write the next chapter. But, if I don't pretend to myself that I have a plan, how will I have the courage to keep going? Instead, I count words and chapters. How many words have I written, how many words are left? How many chapters do I need to write? How much research do I have left to do? I have to give myself estimates and see the progress that I'm making in order to keep going.

I do have a goal. The average science fiction novel clocks in at between 85,000 and 120,000 words. I'm shooting for 100,000. I'm planning for 24 chapters of 5,000 words each. So far I've written around two and a half chapters, at 4,000 words each. Seems like I'm making progress, even if it's slow.

Of course, when you're hiking, all sorts of unexpected things can throw off your estimates. You might get lost, a bridge might have given out on your trail, it might snow, or you might decide to turn back, and then your estimate will be completely wrong. It's foolish to believe that your estimates will be accurate.

In the same way, even though I track my progress with writing, I know in some ways it's an illusion. In fact, I already reached 25,000 words before I decided to completely rework the start of my novel. I'm hoping I can still reuse some of what I've written, but I definitely won't be able to reuse all of it. My progress of 767 words per day is illusory. If all goes well, I'll be done after another 113 days of writing. But that assumes I won't have to do any more rewriting, that I won't have to throw out any scenes, or do extensive background research on a setting, topic, or character.

I know these estimates aren't real, in fact might even be worthless, but I can't help calculating them, because it helps me feel like I'm making progress. And the feeling of progress is what I need to keep going.

Until next time, fellow writers! May that mischievous block of ours not even dare to visit your dreams. But if it does, feel free to come back to this website to waste more of your time.