In Honor of Hidden Work

Blog, writing

Earlier this week I reached my year goal to write 240,000 words. That is no mean feat; it’s the equivalent of four, 60,000 word novels.

But where had all my words gone? I certainly didn’t write four novels. I did write short stories, and the first draft and half of a second draft of a novella. None of these could justify such a large word count. The rest must have been those words lost to the ether, the words which get laid down and end up not being part of the final draft.

This made me think of hidden work: work which goes on behind the proverbial curtain, which the audience rarely, if ever, sees. For instance, consider a novel. What people see of a novel is usually the finished product, the beautiful cover and the bound pages. All the work that went into that remains hidden, unseen, except to the writer and their friends and confidants.

. . . you are neck deep in a longer work of fiction, and a short story from months ago decides to show up and demand attention.

(Of course this story couldn’t have shown up when I was actively working on it. Why would it do that.)

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Goal Oriented versus Task Oriented

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In a couple of writing workshops I’ve attended, writers were encouraged to think of goals for each character, ie, a challenge or problem the character had to overcome which would signify change in the character.

This is all fine and dandy, and seems to work for some people. the problem I always had that I struggled to conceptualize a goal-oriented challenge for a character. I never entirely know what a character wants or needs until I get there with them.

I was jotting down notes on my latest work in progress, and wrangling with that old issue of not being able to understand a goal for each character. But when I read over my notes I realized: my aims were task-oriented, not goal-oriented. Meaning: my characters had tasks they needed to accomplish, rather than a particular, overarching goal. and these tasks meant the ultimate outcome was open-ended, or that some arcs would remain unresolved, simply because a task-oriented approach allows that.

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I never thought of it that way, so I was ridiculously pleased and a little “mind blown” by it. It’s always nice when you understand your own writing process better. You spend far less energy when you know and honor your own process rather than trying to abide by someone else’s.