Friday, December 31, 2010

One headlight

There are things I don't do when I write. One thing, something I will never do, is make an outline. Never is a long word, but I think I can say it here, being that I've never outlined anything. I didn't even outline my dissertation. (Um, this may be why one of my chapters went through 13 drafts. Or why, when I had approved drafts of all four chapters, and four months left to put the project together, I decided I needed to completely rewrite three of those chapters because I had finally realized what my project was actually about. Insanity may also explain the latter.)

This is probably where I ought to reiterate that my process is just that: my process. It's the way to write that works for me, right now. It may not be your process, and you shouldn't change yours to fit mine.

The reason that I don't outline my fiction is that if I know how the story ends, I have no interest in writing the story. But writing by my headlights means that I usually have significant revisions to do at the end of something. (Not always. "A Life in Fictions" had two word changes from the time I set down the pen to the time it was published.)

Which leads me to the other thing I don't do when I write: revise as I go along. I make notes to myself, stuff my notebook full of post-its and marginal scrawls, keep a running list of things I'll need to fix on the next draft, but I almost never actually stop and go back over what I've written. I need the forward momentum so that I can outrace the doubt.

The clever readers among you will have noticed the "almost" preceding the "never" in the previous paragraph.

Sometimes what I'm writing goes through a big enough transformation from what I have written to what I'm going to write that I need to stop and revise. This happened once, about a quarter of the way into The Novel Formerly Known as Linger, when I realized that a major subplot was causing me to tell a story I didn't want to tell (and, more importantly, that my character didn't want to be in). I stopped, typed it out, sent it to approximately all of my beta readers, and had a frantic phone conference with a friend in order to be reassured. Once I got through that, I kept writing until I had a finished Bad Draft.

Yesterday, I realized that was where I was at with Stronger Than Death. The shift in the story is good. It will add depth, and be more my kind of story, and I'm far enough into it that the terror of stopping to type all the words and then slash enormous amounts of them out is balanced by the excitement of the kind of book this is going to be when I'm finished.

I will make notes, signposts for myself, and mark the places where the path is rocky, and the bridge is out. I will not, however, draw a map. Can't read 'em, anyway.

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