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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.

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.

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!

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Jul. 21st, 2011 12:47 am (UTC)
First, let me get this out of the way: Woohoo! Jon's writing Barnum's Revenge.

Ok. Now, I'm not sure how my methods have changed. I feel like they have, but it seems a slow process of changing that it's hard to tell how. I've used both techniques you've talked about here over the past few years, and usually it works out well. I get stuck on a minor point a lot less frequently now than I would have in the past. But sometimes it delays the madness for the revision process. Like my current chapter which was just derailed because I have had a challenging time determining just which street in Harlem my character grew up on. Shouldn't be a problem, I know, but figuring out exactly when some avenues in Harlem were re-named and how that affects things is a pain. (Which come to think of it, is probably why I skipped that detail in the first draft.)

I also like to highlight those notes in yellow or orange or pink, so they stand out even more obvious on the screen as I'm scrolling through the text. One technique I've picked up is that whenever I'm stuck in the writing, I jump back to earlier chapters, scan the text for the note sections, and then see if I can't cleanup or write the missing bits. It's amazing how often those parts become much easier when you've written later chapters, as if you've let the bits percolate enough and now you can see how the parts all fit.
Jul. 21st, 2011 09:08 am (UTC)
'Woohoo! Jon's writing Barnum's Revenge.

Oh, yeah, that's how it always starts. Then later there's running and screaming. ;)

There's usually plenty of information about the bigger stuff online, but I imagine researching minor historical facts, like when a street name got changed, must be among the most time-consuming aspects of revision.

Things What I Wrote and Other Stuff

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there

No longer in print but there are still some copies floating around out there



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