With my third book, Daughter’s Revenge, now available, I can say my writing process has become more formalized and I am now able to do the actual ‘writing’ in just a few weeks. It is amazing to look back upon what had once taken me years to do and is now no longer a daunting task.
I am not saying writing is easy; it can still be challenging at times, but the mechanics that used to get in my way are no longer the roadblocks under which I once suffered. What is even more interesting is that the change was not as gradual as one might expect. If fact, the change in my approach resulted in a rather sudden change in my output.
A little bit of background
When I first started writing, which was when I was in Jr. High, I approached writing very much as a ‘discover’ writer. I had a vague concept of where the story was going, knew a little bit about the characters, but I needed to learn about the world, who was in it, and what was happening just as the characters did. I often waited for my muse and when it struck, I’d rocket through a few chapters and then crash squarely into a wall.
My wall, which survived all those crashes, was always that something wouldn’t seem to fit in the story. Most often, it was issues with character motivation, where suddenly I’d realize the characters would have done X instead of Y and I could go no further. Some times, I would try to force their hand, making subtle changes so they would do what I wanted. Other times, I would give them a different course to follow and change where the story was going. Either option would cause me to go back a few chapters and start editing the content (not so much for typos, but to add or move scenes, characters, large chunks of plot, …). In this way, I’d make the narrative even better, resolved the plot holes, and make the story just a little bit longer.
Those changes led me into the endless cycle of write / backtrack / edit / rewrite. It was often painful and frustrating because I would get through five chapters, then realize I needed to go all the way back to chapter one and that change would cascade down a dozen chapters. I knew there was a great story in there–a masterpiece–but it would never really solidify as too many parts were constantly moving under me.
The slow burning catalyst for change
Over those years of writing, I consumed various bits of advice and articles on how to write. Most of them I adopted to varying degrees, but I normally didn’t fully adopt anything. Fortunately, a bit of advice I had initially dismissed, continued to simmer in my head. Once it was done, it finally made sense and I could have kicked myself for having ignored it. I wish I could attribute this advice properly, but time has consumed that part of my memory.
The advice boiled down to the following:
Write a bad novel.
For years, I could not understand the reason why I, or anyone else, would willing want to write a bad novel. I was working on a masterpiece that would make me rich and famous, I could not afford to waste the time writing something bad.
As it turned out, I was already writing something bad, just ignoring the fact. And worse yet, I was wasting a lot of time because I just wasn’t getting it done due to the constant editing and reworking of the story. And while each paragraph was a work of finely tuned art, overall the story had grown to an unpublishable 200k words as a result of the bloat created by all the editing.
Another very important part of the advice was:
You can learn a lot from finishing a novel.
When I finally accepted that what I had was a bad novel, it occurred to me I should stop editing it and finish it as it was. I put something of an end to the story arch and call it done; or at least done enough.
Believe me, that was hard. I’m a bit (I say with a chuckle) of a perfectionist and turning off that compulsive need for it to be perfect was hard. However, when I finally said the book was complete, an amazing thing happened in my head: I could finally put the story aside and start something new.
It was that decision to call my masterfully bad novel done, that freed my thought process up enough that I could focus on a new project. Before that point, I could not get the bad novel out of my head and so I was always suffering under the burden of that story.
In the next part, I’ll talk about how my writing process changed into what it is today.