It’s not just an excellent slogan for responsible drinking – it also applies to writing.
I actually find that it comes up a lot. It’s not uncommon for a writer to have so much research material (okay, so writers who aren’t me) that fascinates them so much that they want to include all of it in the book. You have to decide how much research is enough to weave in to give good support without becoming a textbook for whatever.
Some writers have such extensive background stories for their characters that it’s hard for them not to dump it all in so that the reader can really understand the hero and heroine.
Do readers really need the detailed description of the hero’s house, all the way down to the number of pictures on the walls? Do they need to know exactly what the heroine is wearing? Do you need to know the history of that secondary character?
The answer is “it depends.” And the writer has to decide when to say when on all those details. It’s tough, but it’s a decision I make on every page, every day. I can make those decisions.
But I did the hardest thing of all recently. I realized it was time to say “when” on the WIP.
This is not an easy decision. I have a contract and a deadline and an editor who’s waiting on a book about X, Y, and Z. That’s the book we talked about and, trust me, it sounded GREAT in theory. In practice, the book sucked. It dragged its clunky, boring characters through page after page of nothing. The Playfriends tried to help, but I could see the pity in their eyes. They knew I was slogging, and they had no brilliant ideas to get me out of the muck any more than I did. The book had no spark, no plot, and no joy.
But the clock was ticking; hello looming deadline. Even as I kept my countdown (if I do ten pages a day, I’m still fine. I only have to do fifteen pages a day to get it done in time. ) I knew it was a losing battle. I just wouldn’t admit it. And when you know you’re rapidly approaching the point to where you’ll have to do twenty pages a day to finish and you’re currently averaging three… Yeah, that’s not good.
So I asked myself – what could I do instead? Like a gift from the muse, an idea sparked. It sounded good. Then there was another one. And another one. Scenes came to mind. Dialogue started to speak to me. I could see my hero and heroine interacting and (maybe more importantly) actually attracting each other. Hello sexual tension! I knew this was the book I really wanted to write.
But there’s always a danger when you’re writing anything – especially when it gets hard. The new idea is always brighter and shinier and seems like much more fun. It’s not always a good idea to let the new idea drag you away from the current idea or else you’ll have a hard drive full of Chapter Ones, but no The Ends.
But I had to know when to say when. And it was time to call that book the turkey it was and send it to hard drive limbo. And you know what? I’ve written more in the last few days than I have in months. I’m still behind, but I’m catching up. And since the words are actually coming now, I have a shot at actually finishing in the same decade as my deadline.
Know when to say when.
It’s responsible writing as well.