5/20/2013

First Drafts now and then

A year or two back I wrote an article for a manuscript agency's website on something I called 'the one third slump', by which I meant the way a novel, outlined or otherwise, tended to dribble off into confusion round about the thirty or forty thousand word mark. This used to really freak me out when it happened to me, in a OH GOD MY NOVEL DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE TOR WILL ASK FOR THEIR MONEY BACK I'LL END UP ON THE STREETS DRINKING GUTTER WATER kind of way. When it happened to my third novel, Stealing Light, instead of completely losing my shit, as they say, I took my six thousand word outline and revised it in order to try and figure out what was and what wasn't working in the novel. That's when I realised writing is a bit like planning an invasion or storming a building with hostages inside. However much you prepare, however much you train, all your preparations aren't worth shit about five minutes after you hit the beach and logistics meet cold hard reality. What I thought would work, didn't work, but that's always the case with initial outlines.

So I went back and re-planned for a month. At the end of that process I had a 22,000 word outline. The result was my most successful and bestselling book to date. It, along with four other of my earlier novels, just got re-released by Tor with brand new cover art and design, so as writing processes go, I guess intensive outlining works for me.

My writing habits, however, appear to be in flux once more. One of the drawbacks of my writing method in terms of actually getting words onto paper is that I sometimes become neurotically obsessed with getting the words just right even when I know there's a reasonable chance those words will need to get chopped later on. I think I've broken the habit, and for the first time in my life I've managed to write myself all the way up to 95,000 words of the current manuscript without yet feeling a creeping urge to stop dead, re-outline everything and only then write the end. Instead I'm ploughing through to the bitter end and ignoring all the structural faults that would previously have brought me to a screeching halt, saving that work instead for a later draft.

It feels to me a little like flying blind. But I've realised I like re-writing a first draft a whole lot better than writing it. This is a Good Thing, because I'm obsessing less with getting things 'just right' in the first draft. I'm happy just to bang down the main ideas and then go through it sentence by sentence and character motivation by character motivation in order to sort out what works and what...needs work. I figure I'll finish this extremely rough first draft in a week or two. Then I'll spend longer planning and re-structuring the story and, now I've had the opportunity to spend some time with them and see what makes them tick, work out my characters in much more detail. Whether or not this might produce a better/more successful book I can't begin to say, but hopefully it'll be a less stressful one. 
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