Every now and then, something happens to remind me that I had said I was going to post regularly to this blog. While I think the number of those currently following the blog is probably in the low single digits, I nonetheless feel a certain obligation to keep my commitment, for no entirely clear reason. And so…
A little over three weeks ago, I got feedback from my online writing group on the prologue and first two chapters of what is now projected to be a five-novel series.
This, in case you were wondering, is serious progress. I mean, seriously. And yeah, the feedback I got (which was excellent, by the way; I have the greatest writing group ever) immediately made me set aside what I had written and start reconceptualizing the plan for my first novel, which I’m sure was not what they had been hoping for. But it’s what I needed, and even (kind of) what I had wanted. And I have, in fact, been working on that reconceptualization, and hope to be ready to resume drafting again relatively soon. “Relatively” being, you know, a relative term. Whatever.
My first novel, I’ve become increasingly aware, happened largely by accident. I didn’t know the things I had done right, let alone how to make them happen again. Heck, I didn’t even know that I needed to make them happen again.
After the publication of No Going Back in the fall of 2009 and my following year’s sabbatical from serious creative writing, I spent about the next three years in a variety of failed attempts to make the magic happen again. Failed — but hardly valueless, as I think they taught me several methods that don’t work for me as a writer, and may have now helped me find an approach with the potential to actually get me somewhere. (Notice all the qualifications in that last sentence?)
I’ll start with the accumulated negative lessons of my writing career to date. So here they are, in no particular order — Jonathan’s recipes for writing failure™:
- Writing without knowing where the story is going, who the characters are, and what incidents I want to include
- Writing from a rigid outline
- Pushing myself to draft before I feel ready
- Writing poorly and then planning to improve it later
- Working backward from a schedule with due dates
- Writing a story with insufficient conflict, in the hope that readers will overlook the absence
- Not doing any writing at all (i.e., “waiting for the muse to strike”)
And now for the positive practices — the things I think/hope may lead to writing succcess for me:
- Thinking ahead while planning for flexibility during the actual writing
- “Stocking the pantry” by spending time in advance on worldbuilding, cool details, incidents, character background, etc.
- Doing the best job I can during the initial drafting, and going back to fix things as needed when I decide that I got something wrong
- Mixing it up by moving flexibly between drafting, brainstorming, worldbuilding, and research, and by jumping around to other scenes when I get tired of working on one scene
- Backing off on when it feels like I’m starting to force things. This may mean switching to a different writing, going on a walk, or doing something completely different for a while.
- Trusting my instincts on story elements and details where I think more work is needed
- Putting in time every day, ideally several times a day — in preference to planning on getting a lot done during big chunks of time
So far, it seems to be working. The chapters I produced for my writing group were good — and I have some ideas about how they can be made better. Meanwhile, it feels like my pantry for slowly filling up, so that I have more of an idea of where the story is going and can make informed strategic decisions about what to put where. My goal: to be back to drafting again before Christmas.