A few weeks ago, I started work on the first draft of Barnum’s Revenge (the sequel to Fur-Face). My approach to writing the two novels couldn’t be more different.
Back in 2003, when I began work on Fur-Face, I had no idea what I was doing. Aside from tax returns*, I hadn’t written any fiction since leaving school (with a less than impressive academic record) at age 16. I knew it was going to be about a boy who meets a talking cat that only he can hear, but otherwise I had no ideas for the characters, storyline, locations or overall plot. I just sat down at the computer and started to type.
Since then, I’ve finished enough first drafts to know that I can write novel-length fiction, but if I want to make a career as a writer, I also know I need to figure out an approach which allows me to finish a good quality first draft in a short(ish) period of time.
Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the time-saving value of a detailed outline, and I’ve learned to set aside (or even give up on) projects when necessary. Personally, I’d rather find out something’s not going to work in the plotting stage than after spending months working on a first draft.
Of course, it’s an outline not a contract, so I’m always open to changes during the actual writing stage, but I won’t start typing the first draft unless and until I have a definite plotline and a full understanding of what I want to happen to the various characters and how the events of the story will change them.
For Barnum’s Revenge I’m trying two approaches I’ve never used before.
LET YOUR SUB-CONSCIENCE BE YOUR GUIDE
I call the first one ‘Let your sub-conscience be your guide.’ When I find myself struggling to come up with a great description, clever simile or piece of dialogue, instead of staring at the screen for ages, trying to think of something there and then, I just type in ‘[INSERT GREAT LINE HERE]’ and move right along. More often than not, the line I’m looking for comes to me later, when I’m not even aware I’m thinking about it. Putting in [CHECK THIS LATER] also helps.
IT’S OKAY TO BE OUT OF ORDER
The other new thing I’m trying is to work on a scene out of its linear order if I find myself getting bogged down (I measure progress by scenes completed, rather than word count). So far, it’s proving quite helpful. Just this morning I worked on a scene which takes place near the end of the book (in which I managed to use the line: “I wouldn’t be getting away with it, if it hadn’t been for you meddling kids”).
How about you?
In what ways has your writing method changed since you first started?
*Just kidding about the tax return thing, honest!