Friday, April 6, 2012

The 30,000 Word Crisis Point!

The 30,000 Word Crisis Point!

*insert dramatic music here*

I recently returned from another glorious Brainstorming at the Spa getaway in Matera, Italy. (I’d post the link but I think it’s clear by now my link-posting abilities have failed me.) More than a dozen writers sat around for an entire weekend brainstorming their plots, hammering out story lines, free thinking crazy tangents and strategizing self-promotion.

And commiserating. Lots of commiserating. We are writers after all.

A misery I shared with the group met with a surprising cry of empathy:

The 30,000 Word Crisis Point

In every story I’ve ever written there is this point, this complete breakdown in confidence. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts my love of keeping a writing journal and in reviewing those journals I’ve realized this breakdown always comes at or near the 30K mark or at just about 90-100 pages. In my debut novel FLOWERTOWN (unsubtle plug!) the break in my confidence was so profound I had to shut down my computer for nearly a week, hide the pages, and talk myself off a ledge every day. The plot seemed too daunting for me to tackle. Who the hell was I to try to pull off a conspiracy thriller like this?

I found my answer in Elizabeth Gilbert’s inspiring TED talk on creativity. Google it. Watch it. I’d link it but…you know. What I took away from the video was this - it wasn’t my job to pull off this incredibly intricate plot. It was my job to show up every day and let the story tell itself. I taped a note over my desk with this simple message:

It will pull itself off.

That must have looked kind of strange to anyone who passed by my writing desk but I knew what it meant. And commiserating with my fellow writers in Italy I learned that other writers know all too well what it means. Nearly everyone in the group knew the horror of the 30K Crisis Point. Why 30K? Why 100 pages? Is this the tipping point of the plot? The point where the story takes on a life of its own and all you can do is hang on? Do plotters have this same crisis or only pantsers?

Skip ahead. FLOWERTOWN is due out in two months. (second shameless plug) I’ve received my ARCs, making the entire endeavor almost too real to wrap my head around. I’m writing a new story that is so far from my normal comfort zone that I practically need footie pajamas and a teddy bear just to open the document but it’s moving along. Or it was. I’m at 30K and guess what came rolling in? But this time I was ready for it. This time I had a weekend with other writers to talk me through it. This time I knew to take the fear apart and look at what drove it. Quite simply, I was psyching myself out. Ergo the note you see at the top of this post.

This is not that important.

This is a story, not a lung scan. I’m not leaving eternal words for generations to come, I’m telling a made-up story about astronauts and aliens, for crying out loud. If it sucks, it sucks. So be it. I love telling the story so all those worries about edits and story arcs and plot and development are just going to have to take a back seat to me entertaining myself. Sixty thousand words from now, I won’t even remember why I panicked in the first place.

So how about writers? Pantser or plotter, have you known the 30,000 Word Crisis Point? How did you get past it?


Ingrid said...

Gosh Sheila - I should have been in Matera! I have 2 sitting at just below 30k - perhaps there's truth in your words!! Need to push myself a bit - too many excuses at the moment not to!

SG Redling said...

You do have a bit on your plate! Sometimes real does does intrude but, man, it would have been great to see you in Matera! And you're not alone in the 30k deathspot. That's why these 1k/1hr challenges we've been doing have been great.

Emily Gray Clawson said...

YES! Just what I needed to read today. I'm hitting that crazy panic place again today. I just sat down and went through my unfinished projects and low and behold, they are all sitting at anywhere from 27K to 35K. Some of them I abandoned totally thinking that I was just dealing with a broken plot, beyond repair. Now I'm realizing it was just that fear you mentioned. I don't know what was different with the three I have finished, how I got through them. Somehow I did. You'd think it would get easier. Um, nope!

Thanks for the post. Totally rocked my world today.

Ang Grayson said...

I'm a pantser, and the story unfolds itself, which is why I don't plot.
I'm sitting at a little under 32K, and to be honest, I've got the whole Who-Am-I-To-Write-A-Novel vibe going on ... good to know other people feel the same thing.

Vita Andreyo said...

Oh my goodness!!! I'm so glad I found this! I'm writing a non-fiction book, and guess what? Right about now, near 30k my mind goes blank. It's like "that's it, I've got nothing more to say on the subject, let's publish now". WTH? And then comes that other one "Who do you think you are, imagining yourself an author, your writing is childish, it's embarassing, go find a real job or something". So glad to know it's a recognised and known phenomenon, gives me hope I can get past it!