Stale Bread

I’m 30,000 words into my next Jessica Warne novel. But I’ve been away from the story for a while, dealing with life stuff, and now my manuscript is like bread left out on the counter too long. That happens when I don’t keep up my momentum.

From where I’m sitting, my manuscript looks puffy. Thirty-thousand words, and I’m still setting up conflicts like dominos. As an impatient reader, I’m an impatient writer. It’s time to knock some of those dominos down, I think.

Yeah, I know the experts say you should blast through your first draft with your ass on fire, but my ass-blasty drafts are way too puffy, I think.

Writing Processes: Patterson vs. Smith

I’ve been researching different writing/editing styles and trying to find my own. On the plotting side of the spectrum, you have the James Pattersons of the world. He spends months refining a 40-80 page outline, and only when it’s perfect does he write. Once the story is there, in the outline, the work becomes paint by numbers. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you’ll find pantsers, like Dean Wesley Smith. They jump into the blank page without preconceptions, ready to observe the story unfold inside their minds eye.

Surprisingly, Smith does little editing once a manuscript is complete. It all happens in the heat of the moment. He moves forward through the writing process in a looping motion, writing a new chapter, then circling back to tweak past chapters, then moving the narrative further forward with each pass. That’s how I wrote, back when I started, when I wasn’t trying to emulate other authors or write a zillion words a day.

What attracts me about that approach is the way Smith has fun with the story, and then he publishes it and moves onto the next. THAT WAS FUN. MAY I HAVE ANOTHER? His approach sounds like freedom compared to the long and tedious rounds of developmental editing, second-guessing, and obsessing that goes into a standard editorial process. But is Smith’s process too pie-in-the-sky? He’s not the only person who writes this way. Nora Roberts and Stephen King use a similar process. But I worry about the lack of quality control.

Regardless of which way I go, a story needs to have an arc. There’s a certain flow to the thing we call story. But an arc isn’t the same thing as an outline. Perhaps being a good pantser” requires an ability to hold true to the structure of a story, without needing to plot out every scene like you’re a storyboard artist making a movie.

All of this is a long-winded way of asking myself the question: What should I do with my 30,000 words of stale bread?

Rather than adding on, I think I’ll print out that draft, and start fresh with a blank page. I’ll dive in, slowly at first, rebuilding the arc, in a forward looping motion. More play, less paint-by-numbers, but I want each piece to be sleek and smart and fun.

Hmm… Let’s see how it goes.

Reference Links:

Dean Wesley Smith’s Talk on Writing into the Dark”

James Patterson on Outlining

December 22, 2018 · status · writing process


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