Continuous process refinement

I expect every novel to bring its own set of demands and challenges. It’s a bit strange moving on to the next one. It feels entirely different, not just because a genre switch, but also because of what I learned the last time around.

Would I change the way I approached writing the last novel if I had a chance? No. That was me figuring out how to get it done and the inefficiencies in the process were part of the learning, but I will be doing a few things differently this time.

For the first novel, I knew the ending from the start but I just didn’t know how to get there. I pantsed my way through the parts I didn’t know. I don’t think I could have gotten through it otherwise. I wasn’t able to sort out the plot until after the first draft, because I didn’t yet have a feel for the length and how much story I’d need to create to get through to the end.

Now, I am aware of the average length for each scene, like the rise and fall of a breath, the natural shape of things in my mind. I didn’t imagine it would be so consistent. This time, I should be able to plan the novel to greater detail, which will make the writing part faster, and ensure fewer major plot issues before the first draft. I have a better gauge on structure, and layering conflict.

However, I still don’t plan to writing linearly. With the first novel, I found it more efficient to work on the parts that were easier, the parts that were better defined, and let the subconscious work away at the harder bits in the meantime. I’ll continue to do this.

I think that next time I can also cut out a round or two of the edits if I do a physical printout earlier on in the game. It was one of the most helpful stages of editing for me. Reading (fast) through the story helped me identify plot holes and inconsistencies I’d have missed by focusing on one chapter at a time. It helped with the bigger picture and the flow of the novel.

Oh and there’s the world building. How world building torments me. Most writers of fantasy enjoy it, but I am not one of them. Strict magic systems? No thanks. I’ll stick to the surreal. I have a bare bones map of the world is more about directions than landscape. It’s TERRIBLE. This city here, this other one, somewhere south. The first novel was a challenge in terms of setting, and I employed a strange iterative world building approach. With every draft, more details came to light about the world and setting.  I’m not sure if I integrated everything smoothly. It just so happened that way. I didn’t even know I was writing steampunk at the time. I plan on blogging about how that happened later.

This time the world building doesn’t seem to be an issue. The new novel has more of a historical flavor, so there’s more research to be done. I also am basing it off of a short story I previously wrote, so the world is something I am somewhat familiar with. Every novel is different.

I seem to have worked out a truce with my muse. We have a pretty regular writing schedule now. He’s still usually late to work, but if I start writing he’ll show up eventually, and I can’t complain about the output. Things have been pretty good. Perhaps it was a good idea to write him a threatening letter?

Consistency and routine helps, and so does having a dedicated space to write. I couldn’t write in the living room where my desk was, so I set up a small corner in the bedroom. I can close the door and not hear the TV which is too distracting.

And again, the most surprising thing about this whole process hasn’t been a fight with the writing, but a battle against distraction, doubt, and impatience. Those are the real novel killers, and I think I can handle them better this time around, because I will be expecting them.

There are a lot of things I hope to improve for the next novel: being better at subtlety, learning how to work more gracefully with different POV’s, and a more efficient editing process.

What are some things you’ve learned so far? It’s good to celebrate even the small successes!

19 Comments to “Continuous process refinement”

  1. Brad

    I can’t say I recommend this, but I did a 20 plus hour solo road trip from Seattle to LA with a digital voice recorder on board. Eight hours into the trip, I found myself narrating the story scene by scene, synopsis style. Climbing the hill out of LA two days later I had a completed narration which I later transcribed to a 40K word outline, and then chopped to about half that length. The manuscript is still WIP, but I have a clear picture of where I’m going and when I had to write a synopsis for a contest I found it quite easy to summarize what I had.

    This was my version of locking myself in a hotel room and not coming out until I had something. I have to say, it did feel like a big relief when I’d gotten it all into the voice recorder. I thought, “Phew, now all I have to do is write it.”

    Like you, I don’t think I’d do this for the next novel, but also like you, I think it was a necessary part of learning and developing.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      That’s impressive! I think I might be too distracted if I were driving and dictating story at the same time hehe. It is a huge pressure off the shoulders knowing what you need to write. The blank page/screen seems far less intimidating.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Pretty much. I have the characters, general plot, and ending for it so far. Sometime during the last few drafts the idea to expand an old story into something more got stuck in my head. It gradually became more appealing, and started snowballing at the back of my head while I was doing the last draft. By the time I was done with the novel, this new one came together all at once. There’s lot of work I still need to do before I can start the writing, but I’ve got a good start.

      I don’t expect this to happen all the time, mind you LOL.

  2. What I find interesting is that you’re switching gears from something more of a “pantser” or organic writing method down the continuum toward the “planner” or architect style. It doesn’t look like a whole sea-change shift, but there’s definitely movement along the continuum from one side toward the other.

    I’ve been through that process… when I was much younger and first writing one of the older drafts of “Project SOA #1”, I had an idea of the end in mind, and I knew the beginning… and a couple of the steps in between in vague detail. For the rest, I was flying by the seat of my pants, and seeing what came up. Now, I’m significantly more meticulous in planning out the plot and characters before I throw myself into the story itself. There’s nothing wrong with one method or another, but I find that the structure helps me stay on track working toward my goal.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Yes I am shifting! I know the outline will change somewhat as I go, but I know how much I need to do to get started. I’ve learned the outlining process that works for me which is: writing down scenes on note cards, and shuffling things around physically. Also, I think another key thing was shifting my brain from thinking in terms of chapters, to scenes.

      Everyone works differently, and I don’t think one way is better than the other. Whatever gets the job done. 🙂

  3. One thing I know I would do differently is to just write the whole story double-spaced and properly formatted from the get-go. (I wrote everything single-spaced.) I really hate reading my story in that double-spaced format–too much visual negative space, imo–but it will make things easier in the long run when it’s time to submit it to others to read and mark up.

    Not to worry, though: I’m presently getting a Zen high off the rhythm that comes with deleting the spaces between paragraphs. Not sure if there’s a way to do this in Word with one click ’cause if there is I haven’t found it yet, heh.

    1. You have a double-paragraph break between paragraphs?

      That can be fixed rather quickly. Do a find & replace in Word. For find: “^p^p” sans quotations marks For replace: “^p”, also sand quotations. This will find double-paragraphs breaks and replace them with a single paragraph break.

      1. You’re welcome 🙂

        P.S. Word can make it pretty easy to change the format of the whole document all at once if you want – so you can write it in the format that you like to see and read it in and then change it to manuscript format before submitting.

        For instance, if you like single-space with a double-space after each paragraph, you just set the Paragraph format setting to “After: 12 points”, but keep the line spacing set as Single Spaced. Then, when you hit Enter at the end of a paragraph, it will display it as if it were double-spaced at the end of the paragraph.

        When you’re ready to submit, simply change these settings to “After: 0 Points” and line spacing to “Double Spaced”, and you’ve now got it in something more like manuscript format.

        I keep a manuscript format template with all the settings for manuscript submission format set up… then I just copy and paste my story into the template and save it as a new version, myself.

    2. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Oh I started out that way too! Everything was single spaced in my first draft. I swore for the rewrite I’d format it correctly, which was hard to get used to, but yeah in the end it is less of a hassle.

      You know, sometimes mindless clicking is a nice break story wise hehe.

      1. Or a nice distraction:

        Click-delete. Click-delete. Click-delete. Click-delete. Click-delete… Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z… Click-delete. Click-delete…

        Just kidding, I don’t do this, lol.

  4. I like the iterative approach, myself. I think lots of authors do that: put down the bones as best they can, then go back and flesh things out. Add in more layers, clean things up, etc.

    Overall it sounds like you’re coming to peace with your process — and evolving it — which is great. That’s the journey of a writer. 🙂

    “… the most surprising thing about this whole process hasn’t been a fight with the writing, but a battle against distraction, doubt, and impatience. Those are the real novel killers…”

    100% for sure! And the first step in defeating them is recognizing them. I’m in the middle of that battle myself.

  5. I’m trying to force myself to just write what’s in my head when it’s in my head, but I have a little too much OCD that makes me want to do everything in order. I’m learning about my process and adjusting it, just like you have though. I still work chronologically, but when I get to a portion I haven’t quite figured out yet or isn’t coming along smoothly enough, I make a note in my journal of what I want to happen and skip it and go straight to the next bit. And the good news is, it’s working!

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Whatever it takes to get the story done 🙂 I find that the hard parts aren’t as hard when I go back to them later. I think I indulge my OCD when I take out my note cards, and colored pens for coding. OH I can rearrange scenes for days LOL… is this the best order, or is that one? hehe.

  6. “I think that next time I can also cut out a round or two of the edits if I do a physical printout earlier on in the game.”

    I find this essential (though that may be because I learned how to do this pre-computer). Once I print something out, I see what’s wrong with it much more quickly, Even my stories, which ultimately end up on the web, go through multiple paper drafts as they are being written.

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