Writing–The Novel Experiment

"Writing", 22 November 2008

A few months ago (I think June, but I’m too lazy to go back and look for sure), I blogged about starting a new novel and writing it in a completely different way than I was used to. I was going to outline a few chapters, write those chapters, revise those chapters, and then move, sort of leapfrogging my way through the book.

I’ve admired the writes that can do that sort of thing. It looked like a much more efficient way to write a book. They don’t have to wait until their finished with the first draft to go back and fix glaring story problems or character issues. They revise as they go along to catch those things. Then when they do finish the first draft, they’ve got a whole lot less fixing to do. In other words, their first drafts put them a lot closer to a final draft.

That’s great for them. I still admire and envy them. But that’s not for me.

I used this technique with the Ivy novel (it still doesn’t have a title). While I did like not getting too far ahead in the outline so I could make adjustments and I liked the ability to go back and fix big story problems or combine chapters before I got too far ahead of myself, overall, I found the whole process rather tedious. By the time I started outlining the next few chapters I was relieved because I was sick of the chapters I’d been working on. That sickness has followed me all the way through the draft.

As of this post, I’ve still got two chapters to write and four chapters to revise (though, I don’t think I’ll be doing much of anything major to those chapters) and I’ll be done with the draft. Yes, I’ll be a lot closer to a final draft when I’m finished and that’s great, but I don’t think I want to write a novel this way again. At least not for a long time.

I do think I’ve picked up a couple of useful tricks from doing writing this way, though.

Not getting too far ahead in my outline is a great help. I think I need to start doing two outlines. The BIG outline of the general story arcs I want to tell. And the DETAIL outline of what goes in each chapter. The BIG outline will keep me from forgetting things. The DETAIL outline is what I need to stay on task (this is invaluable to me during NaNo when I must hit my word count for the day; I know exactly what I’m going to right about so I don’t have to waste time wondering). If I only outline a few chapters at a time, then I can make the adjustments I need to it without derailing the whole thing.

The second thing is that it’s okay to go back and change big, glaring story problems while writing the first draft. Okay, yes, this isn’t exactly time efficient during NaNo, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. And it doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done just because I am writing a first draft and I prefer to write it all the way through without revising. Sometimes it’s a benefit to break that self-imposed rule. In the end, it helps me out more than it hurts me.

So, while I think I will always be one of those writers that has to get it all down on paper in one go, I do think this experience has made me a little smarter about how I can go about that more efficiently.

Stick with me, kids. I’m learning.

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