It was pretty low key -- Friday night was the school staff holiday party (yes, in January; that's the tradition at my school. In December there would be too many conflicts with finals), which was fun, if too loud. Saturday was be-lazy-around-the-house day. On Sunday, SE and SF came up for an excellent crab dinner. Monday I had made tentative plans for lunch and a movie with SE, but the long-promised winter storm blew in that morning and we decided it was too icky to go out, so I spent most of the day writing instead.
Anyone who has talked writing with me lately knows that Aftermath has been much on my mind in recent weeks, largely as a source of frustration. There is no question that this has been the hardest story for me to write ever: I started setting it down in October 2006, the first chapter was posted in February 2007, and it has continued to be a slow and painful process. Every year since 2007, "finish Aftermath" has been my primary fic-writing goal for the year to come, and every year I have failed to do so. Sometime, I pull it out, look at it, and put it away again; sometimes I pull it out, make edits, and put it away again; every so often, I pull it out and add a few words, get an inspiration for one scene and set it down, then get stopped dead by the next and put it away again.
Until yesterday, when I started writing, futzing around with ideas, took a couple of false starts, then suddenly hit on the right direction. And the next thing I knew, the chapter was nearly finished, and I knew not only how it was going to end but where the next chapter was going, which has been a problem throughout with Aftermath: I finish one chapter, segment, or scene with no idea what's going to happen after that. Aftermath is the first long story I ever started without a clear vision of where it was going to end. I have complained about writing endings in this space before, but that's in the context of shorts. Normally, when I start a long story, I have the image of the last paragraph in my head. It might change in the meantime, and I may have no idea how it's going to get there, but I have a destination. Aftermath began life as a short -- the first scene of the first chapter, Beclem at Operation Mi'ihen, was going to be the entire story -- but as I was writing it, the vision of the second scene (Beclem finding Nooj, who is on the run from the Travel Agency) appeared whole in my brain, and suddenly I was writing a novel. I knew from that point that Aftermath was going to be the story of the Youth League, but that was all I knew. Inspiration has come slowly, it has come in fits and starts, and it has come from talking ideas through with people, but the true leaps forward have only ever come from actually sitting down and writing.
This is a truism of writing, at least for me: inspiration may or may not come from writing, but it will never come from not-writing. I don't know why I have to keep re-learning this fact, but I do. And yet I continue to find ways to distract myself from stories that aren't coming easily -- catching up on Google Reader, chatting with people, getting sucked into the latest metafandom conversation, betaing and working on fandom projects. I don't want to give any of those things up, and I don't plan to (betaing, particularly, I think helps me to become a better writer, and so I think it should at least partly count as writing time), but I need to better learn when I am genuinely taking a break and when I am avoiding working on a story. Maybe if I hadn't avoided Aftermath for so long, it would be done by now and I could move onto the next major work with a clear conscience.
So I ask you, dear writers on the friends list: how do you tell the difference? How do you get started when the blank screen is staring you in the face and the weight of your own expectations for the story seem too much to bear? And how, short of tearing the Internet connection from the wall, do you shift your focus when the time comes? (I have thought of going offline, but I actually find the lack of a distraction to be more distracting than the distraction itself, if that makes any sense. I keep wondering if I'm missing anything. It's similar to my inability to concentrate in total silence.)
By the way, I finished the rough draft of Chapter Four this morning, and, in a first for this story, set down the first few words of Chapter Five, which ought to be the last. So the end is, possibly, in sight. Wow.