This is a picture of one of my favorite features in the software I use to write. It tells me how much progress I’m making toward my overall word count goal, as well as how close I am to my daily goal. I enjoy watching those bars grow, little by little, until I have a completed novel in front of me.
Lately, though, the bars have been taunting me.
They’re moving much more slowly than I’m used to. You can see in the top bar that I’m just over 4,000 words into my new project, which isn’t too shabby…except I’ve been working on this particular project since the end of May. To put that in perspective, this was two days’ worth of work by the time I was finishing The Marian Trilogy.
I’ve gone through all kinds of excuses for why my writing is slowing down – adjusting to a new job, getting out of “editing mode,” familiarizing myself with new characters – but I’m realizing this particular block is something I’ve never dealt with before.
Writing has been like pulling teeth lately because I’m writing outside my comfort zone.
That’s not to say I’m writing a book I’m not interested in. I’m incredibly excited about this story and its potential. It’s going to be a horror story, more or less, and that’s a genre I’ve been wanting to dig into lately. The hard part is that, as I thought about my favorite horror novels, I realized they all take great pains to fully flesh out their characters and their relationships.
The Shining (the book, not the movie) wasn’t scary because of what was waiting in Room 217. It was scary because I cared about Jack Torrance and his family. More recently, Joe Hill’s The Fireman isn’t so affecting because it features an epidemic of spontaneous combustion. It’s powerful because of the way the characters react to it and the way it impacts their relationships. For me at least, a horror story’s intimacy is what gives it teeth.
So the more I looked at my favorite horror stories and the more I looked at my own ideas, the more I realized that not only do I need to get my characters right, I also have to let them and their relationships drive the story.
So there’s the rub.
I’m not used to writing this kind of story. I’m used to driving stories with crazy plot twists and ridiculous action scenes, not with relational tension and character development. I’m 4,000 words in, and no one has been in imminent physical danger. That’s the longest I’ve ever gone without somebody at least getting punched. It’s hard to write this way, and I constantly find myself wondering if I’m just writing something pretentious and boring.
But I’m not going to give up on this story, or even change my vision for it. For one, I’m excited about this idea. As hard as it will be to write, a horror story with strong drama elements (dramatic horror? horrific drama?) is exactly the type of story I’d want to read right now, which is generally the determining factor for what I write.
But the biggest reason I’m sticking with this idea is precisely because it’s outside my comfort zone. I got pretty comfortable in the world of The Marian Trilogy. That’s not to say I was bored of it or was phoning it in, but I had really gotten used to working with a very specific set of writing tools. There’s a whole section of my toolbox I was barely touching in writing gritty young adult fiction with crazy machines and creepy monsters.
So now I’m branching out. It’s going to be slow going, and it’s going to be uncomfortable, but I also expect it to be good. I expect it to help me grow.
And maybe – just maybe – when it’s all said and done, there will be another set of tools I’m able to say I’m really comfortable using.