As I embark on my second book, I have naturally been thinking about lessons learned. Am I better equipped to write the second book than my first, which I started a little over one year ago? I think so…I certainly hope so. Discovering my process, though somewhat painful, has been worthwhile. Here are some thoughts about what I’ll be doing differently this time around.
- Don’t plot too much. I learned the hard way that I am not a plotter. Before I start, I have to the basic framework in place. Protagonist, antagonist, world, conflict, what’s going to happen at the end. That’s about it. The rest kinda just goes with the flow.
- Post-its. For some reason, they work for me. I do some plotting along the way. When I come to a point where I don’t know what happens next, or where several storylines intersect but I don’t know what order they should go in, I use post-its. One for each plot point, event, important tidbit, etc. And then I move them around until they are in an order I like. Then I stack them into a neat stack, and use them when I write. Write one scene, tear off the post-it, see what comes next.
- Down time. I don’t skip around a lot when I write, but I will skip a scene or two if my imagination is not cooperating. I like to give myself some time away from my computer to mull things over. There are few things so satisfying as a good mull. A lot of time this happens on the bus on the way to or from wor. I’ll be standing, packed in like a little sardine, but my mind will be hard at work, turning the problem over and examining it from different angles. What should this character’s memorable quirk be? Where should this showdown happen? What clue should I drop to lead the protagonist one step closer to the answers she seeks? Somehow, I find that separation is more effective than trying to hash these details out while staring angrily at my laptop.
- Don’t look back. It’s so hard. You want to look back. Re-work, second guess. No! Writing is writing. Editing can come later.
- No chapters. When I wrote my first novel, I spent a lot of time dividing things into chapters, and then later when editing changed those divisions, and then changed them again, and I’m still not totally satisfied. This time around, I am going to do my divisions by scene. This way, if I add or subtract scenes in editing, it won’t screw everything up. I can add chapters in a later edit when things are more solidified.
- Know thyself. After a hard day of lawyering where I used a lot of brainpower, there ain’t a lot left. I am going to try to write either in the morning or at lunchtime, recognizing that I’m pretty useless after work. I’m also going to try to get ahead on the weekends, writing more like 2000-2500 words (instead of my target 1500), in recognition of the fact that some nights, 1500 words just ain’t gonna happen.
- Write with purpose. I spent a lot of my last novel adding scenes, tidbits and conversations which served only to reveal some bit of information to the reader. I wanted to get this cool point across, but it served no real purpose in the story. Or at least, not enough of a purpose to make the cut. I am going to try to be more proactive about writing only scenes that further the story. I am just finishing the book on writing Techniques of the Selling Writer, by Dwight Swain, which I thought was really phenomenal. It has a million practical tips that I am applying to my writing, not in the least how to write in motivation-reaction units, where you present a motivating stimulus for your protagonist, followed by their reaction, emotionally, physically, and through dialogue. I am hoping that by borrowing this approach, I can take strides towards tightly tying all my scenes into the storyline.
- Organize and add. Once all that beautiful writing is said and done, I plan to organize myself, essentially doing all the plotting I should have done at the beginning. I will write one sentence summaries of each chapter, so I can get a thousand-foot view of the story. I tried to do this in Excel last time, and wasted a lot of time. I guess my brain doesn’t like Excel. Plain old Microsoft word works for me. This is where I will examine character arcs, pacing, plot holes, whether I should add or delete scenes. Then I will make those changes, add or delete those scenes, adjust those details, all before starting traditional editing. I spent months line editing my first novel before really addressing the big changes I had to make, because it was just so darn tempting to jump right into it. Not this time! I will do everything in my power to perform each edit with a distinct and unique purpose.
- Beta read earlier. I edited my last book to death before I let anyone read it, because it was my first book and I didn’t want anyone to think my writing sucked. But I see value in earlier beta reading, more at a developmental edit stage. I ended up having to perform a complete edit after my beta readers gave me feedback, because I modified certain parts and I wanted to make sure it all flowed. I am thinking instead of the process I took last time (Line edit, Line edit, Developmental edit, Line edit, Line edit, Beta readers, Developmental edit, Line edit), my process should look like this: Developmental edit, Line edit, Beta readers, Developmental edit, Line edit. Yes, that seems much preferable.
Sure, my process may not work for everyone. Hey, it might not end up working for me! But it is nice to know that I do have a few more tools this time around than last time. It’s a process, and it’s one that I am enjoying. 25,000 words down so far!
Photo credit Darwin Bell , cc license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/