Sunday, 22 May 2011
I should be writing. By which I mean that I'm trying desperately to finish a coherent draft of Revolution - ideally by the end of May - and doing anything else right now feels like procrastination of the highest order.
Nevertheless, procrastination in the interests of getting a blog post posted is the justifiable kind...
A few people have asked me lately about my writing process, and it seems to be a little unconventional, so I thought I'd try to write coherently about what I do.
In the beginning, I write very erratically. I scribble notes to myself on post-its or the backs of bus tickets, often just two or three lines of dialogue which capture the main turning point of a scene. Later - back at my computer - I type up a little more detail. This usually involves the rest of the dialogue first, and only after that's written do I think about the surrounding action (at which point I close my eyes and watch the scene play out in my head, until I can confidently write a description).
I keep collecting these scenes until I feel like I've got enough to work with, often 1/2 to 3/4 of the final word count of the book. By this point you could read the scenes I've written and understand the overarching plot, but it wouldn't flow, and so it's time for the next phase. I call this part weaving because I've got my threads and need to pull them together into some kind of coherent fabric. New material has to be written to join the existing scenes together, and I usually end up having to interleave separate sub-plots which I've written independently. This part is much harder for me, and it's the stage I'm at now with Revolution. Because I have to hold the picture of everything in my head at once, I can't do it in odd minutes here and there: it has to be hours at a time or I completely lose my way. I often end up re-writing scenes because my first version doesn't quite fit with its necessary position in the plot. This is also the point where I start drawing timelines: it shouldn't snow in summer unless something really strange is happening!
By the time I have a finished "first draft" - something that you could read from beginning to end - most of the individual scenes are on their third (or more likely tenth) redrafting.
I'll then give this draft to a few trusted friends for comments, which is the best way to find out which parts don't quite work as well as I'd hoped. I can then go through a full edit, beginning to end, and write a better draft. This is relatively easy again, by which I mean that I can do it in small chunks. From here on it's an iterative process, making continuous small improvements until I decide it's "good enough" (since I'd never stop if I aimed for perfection).
It's only the middle "weaving" phase which feels like a full time job. And I'd better get back to it...