Sunday, 25 May 2014

On Tearing it Up and Starting Anew

One of the pieces of advice that came to me in my formative writing years* - I think it was in Lisa Tuttle's Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, though I may be wrong - was that as a matter of course you should shelve your finished work and then, after a suitable period of absence, begin it afresh.  Give it some thought and it's not hard to see the advantages of such an approach: with so much groundwork already done, your brain is freed up to learn from all the dumb mistakes you made the first time through and spew pure awesome.  But it's harder not to also see the obvious disadvantage, which is that getting anything finished would take a goddamn age and you'd constantly be throwing your babies out with your bathwater - which all else aside, is bound to lead to a severely clogged drain.

Anyway, as advice it stuck with me, at first because it went against everything I believed about the writing process and then later, once I'd actually given it a go and produced good work on the back of it, because I could see the soundness of it but still knew full well I'd never make it my standard working practice.  Because life is too short, writing careers can be shorter still, and the more I write, the more I find that I like to write fast.

I certainly never imagined I'd do it with a novel.  So the fact that that's more or less what I'm now in the middle of seems worth commenting on.

What I'm trying with what was once called War For Funland and is now known as The Novel Formerly Known as War For Funland is something I've never done before and desperately hope I'll never have to do it again, but I am doing it right now and by gosh it's liberating.  What's good gets polished.  What isn't - or what doesn't work, or fit, or just looks at me funny - gets chucked out, without a shred of mercy or regret.  My schedule gives me practically enough time to rewrite the whole thing from scratch so, hey, who cares?  What I keep is a bonus.  And what I write new will be better, because I've been this way before and know where are the pitfalls and rattlesnakes are hiding.

I've finished the prologue and the first of five parts now, which is solid progress given that this has so far been my B project after To End All Wars (which is really close to finished, by the way, and more on that soon.)  So far I'm finding that this sort of heavyweight rewriting is only a little quicker than writing anew, which I guess leaves the question of whether the results are actually better.  With two novels written together using wildly different approaches, it will be interesting to see which of the two first drafts I'm happier with, which needs more revision at the second draft stage, and whether the parts of The Novel Formerly Known as War For Funland that survived in one form or another are significantly better or less in need of revision that the parts I wrote afresh.

In all honesty, though, I suspect those sorts of differences will be negligible.  The differences I'm noticing are ones of character, mostly, along with things like timing and plot construction that - in what is for me quite a layered and ambitious novel - I struggled to get right the first time through and now feel I have a far stronger grasp of on.  Good planning would have sorted much of that in the first place (and I have an infinitely more solid plan this time around) but it has to be said that this approach, what I may or may or not be misguidedly labeling The Tuttle Approach, is getting there too, and that's a definite argument in its favour.

So thanks, kind of, to Lisa Tuttle.  And, since I'm salvaging more than I'd originally hoped, thanks as well to me-of-four-years-ago for not making quite the hash of it that I felt like I was doing at the time.

* Which, thinking about it, I'd like to think I'm still in, since the last few months have been all sorts of formative.  I guess I mean my early formative years...

No comments:

Post a Comment