Silk’s post #17 — Why is rolling the dice like writing a novel? There are several ways of answering that, especially for the metaphorically inclined. The analogy for me – at this particular stage of the game – is quite specific.
We play a favourite dice game with friends that’s variously called 10,000, Farkel, Cosmic Wimpout, Greed, Hot Dice, Squelch, Zilch, Zonk or Darsh. I just Wikipedia’ed that and, as a writer always looking for the right word, was stunned at the variety of cool names. We’ve always just called it The Dice Game, but that moniker obviously needs a rewrite.
The often frustrating junctures in this game are the beginning and the ending. In our version, each player rolls five dice which are scored in a particular manner and the object is to reach a total score of 10,000 first. However, you can’t get ‘on the board’ and begin to score until you’ve rolled at least 1,000 points in a single turn. And you can’t ‘go out’ and win unless you hit the score of 10,000 points precisely. What that means is that you can take many, many turns before starting to score. Sometimes everyone around the table is galloping along with 6,000 or 8,000 points before you have your first point on the scoresheet. But the hare doesn’t always win the race. You can also run through turn after turn with 9,900 points on the board, but overshoot the winning 10,000 number every time – while someone else sneaks up from far behind and hits it on the nose.
I’ve experienced both of these hellish inertia points in dice. And in writing.
Beginnings and endings. Since we writers seem to love nothing more than writing about writing, many thousands of words have been devoted to the frustrations and challenges of these two critical points in the plot.
“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“The last thing one settles in writing is book is what one should put in first.”
— Blaise Pascal
“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
— Orson Welles
“I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times before I was satisfied.”
— Ernest Hemingway
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
— Louis L’Amour
“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”
— Lewis Carroll
Over the weekend, we began the one-month countdown to the end of our 5writers5novels5months challenge. Tick tick tick. At this point, we should all be breezing through, or more likely wrestling with, our endings. In Joe’s heroic case (even after his heart-stopping computer debacle) it’s time for polishing his already-finished first draft.
But as I look at the scoresheet, at least one of us is still closer to the beginning than the ending. That would be me.
I got off to a promising start. I actually knew the story I wanted to tell from start to finish. Oh, not all the details of course, but I had the basic story arc, the three acts, the premise and theme, and the main characters all firmly in mind. As it turned out, that was like knowing how to roll the dice … but not how to make them come up with the desired score.
I lost a lot of time trying to roll that first 1,000 points to get in the game. There were false starts, diversions, rewrites, runaway research, and time spent on other ‘worthwhile accomplishments’, which was therefore not devoted to getting the book ‘on the board’.
Blog posts, for example. I haven’t missed a turn. I spent the first week in our challenge designing and setting up our blog. It was fun. It was exciting. But it meant I spent my first gush of enthusiasm on the blog instead of on the book.
What have I learned from this? Writing a blog is a lot easier than writing a book. (I know, I know: Well, duh!). I’ve also enjoyed it as a creative form of procrastination that has allowed me to feel somewhat virtuous even as I’ve fallen behinder and behinder. Hey, at least I’m writing something.
For an A-type who’s competitive to my bones, I’m surprisingly okay with being behind. Why? I’m happy with the book I’m writing. I care about my characters. I’m having fun with it. I know where I’m going with the plot, but it’s still throwing me some surprising turns, and that makes the storytelling exciting. If I felt dead-ended with my book, I’d probably be slitting my wrists, or perhaps taking up something less challenging – like rocket science. But I’m on a writer’s journey of my choosing, and loving it.
It isn’t a game to win or lose.
So as the clock ticks loudly down to the ending, I confess that the likelihood of me hitting the magic 10,000 – of finishing the game in our allotted time – is diminishing fast. My beginning took far too long, and I haven’t even started to wrestle with the ending – though I may jump past the middle and write the end ahead of time, as some revered authors like to do.
But what will I send to my 5 Writers friends on February 5th? Half a book? A beginning and an end? A Coles Notes version? A plea for more time? A bouquet of flowers?
Or will I really get on a roll and make the deadline after all?
As Nobel prizewinner for literature John Galsworthy put it so aptly, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.”