Sunday, 7 June 2015

Writing Ramble: How I Write Novels Now, Part 2

So at the end of part 1 I'd got to the point of being about to start some actual writing, which depending on your perspective will probably seem either very early on or quite late, but in my case is about a third of the way through the novel-crafting process.  As I explained last time, by this juncture I'll likely have done at least some preliminary research, I'll have a detailed chapter plan based on my own synopsis and feedback from as many helpful friends as I can muster, and it will probably be in a spreadsheet because I have an obsession with spreadsheets that's all shades of unhealthy.  Seriously, if you ever ask me to my face I'll explain how it's actually the clearest way to represent all that information, how it's great for keeping track of word counts as I go and, oh, a whole host of excuses.  But the truth is, I have a problem and I know it.  I mean, right now a part of my brain is thinking about how much better this blog post would look in a spreadsheet.

This is not how I write novels.
(It really would.)

Um.  Right.  I was talking about novels not spreadsheets, which are two entirely different things, more's the pity.  Now I don't want to discuss the actual writing part here - and yes, that post title was perhaps ill-chosen, thinking back.  Suffice to say that I'll have a fairly good idea from my chapter plan of how long my planned book is going to be, and based on that I'll have allocated a set amount of time, say two hours a day for five months, that should get me through.  If that sounds a bit formal, it at least makes long-term planning a heck of a lot easier, and perhaps makes the creative process less stressful too; there's a lot to be said for knowing that if you consistently knock out a thousand words a day then in five months time you'll have a finished novel that looks something like the one you've intended.  Things will inevitably go wrong along the way, dates will get juggled and there'll be days when it all seems doomed, but so long as I get my words down I know I'll make it across the finish line.

Therefore, x number of months later I'll have a finished first draft.  It would be nice to forget about it for a while at this point - taking a break from any project once you've completed a draft is absolutely vital - but before I do that, I make sure to get it sent off to whatever wonderful folks have agreed to act as advance readers, and knock up a couple of print-on-demand copies for anyone, including me, who prefers to read the old-school way.  (Just how and why I find this useful is something I've discussed here in the past.)

A couple of months later, at the very least, I'll come back to that print copy, and over the course of about a month I'll work through it with my reader head on.  This serves at least three purposes; it re-familiarizes me with the book, gives me a chance to try and pick out some of the flaws I was blind to while I was putting it together, and last up allows me - hopefully! - to spot any typos.  (This, by the way, is the main reason why I prefer to work off a print copy; I find I skim over mistakes too easily on a screen.)  In that same month, I'll also hopefully be getting feedback from any advance readers and taking the opportunity to talk through any problems they've identified.

All of this feedback, my own and other peoples', will go into the second draft.  The aim this time through is to fix any plot issues, to polish, generally to cut - I usually aim to trim about ten percent - and generally to reach the point of having something that, while it will still contain mistakes and clumsy sentences and the odd bit of crap writing, looks basically like a finished work.  And around the same time, I'll be trying to wrestle my preliminary synopsis and chapter plan into a formal synopsis that's suitable for any publishers, editors and / or agents to read, this having the added advantage that it gets me thinking about the plot from an overhead perspective, yet another thing that can potentially highlight flaws.

Once that's all done - it generally takes two to three months - I'll let the manuscript sit again, for at least a month and more if I can afford to.  Then I'll go back for the final round.  The goal here, needless to say, is to produce a book that's as finished as I can make it.  This last draft is the quickest, and depending on how well the previous one went, might be very quick indeed.  Certainly if it takes more than a couple of months then something's gone badly wrong.

This is how I write novels.
I suppose that the obvious question at this point is, how useful would this approach to be to another writer?  To which the answer is, of course, that I've no idea.  It's certainly never been intended to be a catch-all solution, and I'm absolutely not presenting it as such here; like I said right at the beginning, I just happen to find these things interesting enough to think they're worth discussing.  I know, for example, that some writers only ever produce the one draft, and some write many more than I do.  That said, there are elements here that I'd have no hesitation about recommending.  If you're enough of a planner to go with an initial synopsis then getting feedback at that stage is a huge help; it's intimidating to let other people that close to your raw ideas, but it's worth it.  Reading through the previous draft in its entirety before you start the next one is invaluable, and as much as the environmentalist in me hates to say it, working off a dead tree copy reveals more typos that reading from a screen.  And preparing a formal synopsis while you're redrafting is actually much easier than trying to do it afterwards, counterintuitive as it might sound.

So what do you think, fellow novelist folks?  How different is your own approach to mine?  Am I making work for myself?  Or cutting corners?  Is there anything you think you might adopt, or anything you'd recommend that I'm not doing?

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