The writing process, as it unfolds

Last year I wrote a post about my process as a speedy writer here. The process seems to be evolving. My as yet unpublished novels number one and two were drafted in 30 and 90 days respectively and then edited over the next 6 months or so. But it is more than a year later, and I still have the same concept for a novel rattling around my skull from last year with nothing on the page. I should probably correct myself: I’m quick at drafting. In retrospect, it took me about a year of thinking about the last novel before I had the point of view right (I kept trying in 3rd; it had to be in first).

I think I’ve finally cracked this one. Like the last, it was a point of view problem: my protagonist had an arc I’d seen too many times, even if I changed his circumstances or his choices within that arc. I just don’t have much to say about affluent men pushing middle age and on the edge of divorce. So I’ve tried outlining a little from a more tertiary character’s point of view instead, and I am cautiously excited. I’ll see how that goes.

I am also, increasingly, outlining before I draft. I can improvise my way through an entire book, and I enjoy having that freedom to play But I arrived at the end of my first book with a 100k word draft that needed to be 80k, needed about 30% of that rewritten from scratch, and then was impossible to pitch because it was hard to say what it was about. For my second book, about a third of the way in, I wrote the pitch and outlined the rest of the book. That saved months of editing, and it’s was easy to pitch without sacrificing quality. I’ve also started making to-read and to-watch lists.

So, I’ve only really done pre-writing. Next steps, in no particular order:

  1. Write an outline.
  2. Write a query or pitch (slightly different forms).
  3. Make a reading list and/or mood board.
  4. Write the actual scenes.

I know a lot of writers sort of look down on #3 as procrastination, but for me, I need to really get a grip on how similar stories have been told. I also like to tell stories set in tiny subcultures, and that means research. For this upcoming book, it’ll be set in a very cash-flush regional industry. But I can’t just write a generic rich person. A Silicon Valley new rich 1960s counter culture inflected turtleneck wearing CEO is a very different person than 4th generation east coast idle rich WASP dabbling in finance, and that’s different than a 2nd gen Texas oilman. But there’s an internal logic to any given culture and its aesthetic sensibilities. I want to get the details right.

I’m going to have to eventually just… you know, write fiction. But the specificity still pleases me, and is, I think, important.

I don’t think this move from improvising my books to plotting them is me improving as a writer per se. Every time I start a new book, it feels like I forget how to write, and that’s because I don’t know how to write this book. Each book is its own design problem, and solutions from the last one won’t always be portable to the next. Improving is mostly a meta-process of going from memorizing solutions to problems I recognize to learning how to break down problems I’ve never encountered before.

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