A Learning Process

So, I’m writing a novel. I’ve hit 78000 words, which is about 60% of my first draft. It’s been exhausting, it’s been exhilarating, and I’ve discovered my mind doesn’t work the way I expected.

At first outlining seemed like a very sensible thing. It was the way I’d always gone about writing academic papers. It would make the writing go faster, right?

I dug through my files and found an old novel outline. It was fleshed out chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I also had a folder full of character notes, settings, names, and family charts to go with it. It was a perfectly decent story, but I never got farther than the first 6 chapters. The actual writing process became so boring I couldn’t stand to finish the story.

So 78k words later, what worked this time? I discovered I’m a hybrid plotter-panster. I need an outline that lists key scenes and the climax of the novel. I need a direction to write in, but I also I need enough room to let my imagination run freely.

I also realized I don’t need to write linearly. When I’ve hit a wall, I’ve tried moving on to other scenes that I knew had to be written. From those points I could progress logically backwards. If you’ve never tried working backwards from the end of your novel, you should try it. It’s a mental workout.

Writing fast also works for me. I’ve been writing at a pace of roughly 1000 words a day. The result is a first-draft-in-progress that is a complete mess. It’s full of inconsistencies, gaps, and “insert name” placeholders. It’s taken all of my willpower to stop from going back to rewrite.

But, this fear of bad writing is the main reason that my previous novel writing attempts were unsuccessful. I have a folder stuffed full of novel beginnings that lack an ending. How many times have you re-written that first chapter of yours? hmm?

I’ve never gotten anywhere near this far along in a novel in the past, and I know that I can finish this one.

I feel that this first draft is the basic shape I need before I can add in the details. I’m looking forward to the edits and the polishing. I’ve always used this method when working with paint or clay, why wouldn’t it also apply to the way I write? Why didn’t I realize this a long time ago?

I’m still learning how the creative parts of my brain work.

Have you discovered something that surprised you while you were writing?

8 Comments to “A Learning Process”

  1. I’m frequently surprised at how I can highlight three paragraphs and brutally hit the delete key, rather than revise the half-page I just wrote. I’m also surprised that 100,000 words seems like such a high number until you’re rapidly approaching it with a lot of story left to tell.

    1. I know eh? So I say I’m approximately 60% done, but really there’s no end in sight. The more I write, the more I realize there’s so much more story that still needs to be fleshed out. All I can say is I’m getting closer to the end… I think… now I see why there are 300k + novels sitting on the bookstore shelves.

      3 paragraphs and delete? Wow, brutal indeed.

  2. So, hi. Your blog? Adorable! I love the design. Also, this post? Totally me! I’m doing and learning these exact same lessons right now, about outlining and willpower to not rewrite and all that. And it’s painful, but wonderful at the same time!

    1. Thanks Kristan! I actually stumbled on your blog today too (found it via Todd’s blog). It’s good to know I’m not going through all these things alone. It’s frustrating, but yes, wonderful too 🙂

  3. I’ve become an obsessive outliner and plotter. Re: that obligatory “book I’ve been writing” I had written about 120K words shortly after graduating college. I knew where the book was going and how I wanted it to end.

    Then… I decided (after some soul-searching vis-a-vis my own expression of various fantasy cliches) that I needed a dramatic shift in direction.

    So, I decided I’d sit on writing this book until I’d done some very thorough plot and outline and background and character revisioning. I’m building an extensive database of notes on every conceivable topic.

    The upshot? If this became a break-out fantasy hit (however unlikely that scenario may be), it’ll be a relatively easy matter for me to put together an “encyclopaedia of” companion work.

    1. I love hearing about how different writers go about their process. Thanks for sharing this. LOL at the very least, when the novel gets published, you’ll have a lot of bonus material for fans on your author website!

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