When Not Writing is Writing

My lack of blogging recently means all’s been good. I’ve been plugging away at a couple of different projects, sticking to my qualitative approach to recording my days, and generally being a happy writer bunny. 

There have been times, however, when dodgy thoughts have crept into my head. One such thought appeared last week, when I was redoing the outline for my main WIP. A voice in my head said, “This isn’t really work.” 

And at first I believed it. After all, I’d done the outline the previous week. So this meant I was messing about, procrastinating, not really putting in any effort. 

But then I thought, “Hey. That’s crap. I am thinking; I am focused. I’m not on the internet, or daydreaming about nothing. I’m working on this bloody book. So it counts, Other Voice, and nothing you can say will make me change my mind!”

(Cue me fist-pumping the air in a busy Starbucks.)

This wee exchange got me thinking about work and writing. I think it’s problematic that one part of the process is actually writing, yet we call all of it writing. It’s also problematic when huge pressure to produce twists writers into thinking they can’t redo anything. In other words, they can’t make mistakes. 

I’m recovering from these toxic thoughts (only typing counts as work/every task must be completed only once), so now’s a good time to present the alternative. My current working model is this: choose the aspect of writing you enjoy most, and do as much learning there as you can. 

So, there are three parts to writing a novel: planning, drafting and revising. My approach now is to spend as much time in my favourite bit (planning), in the hope it reduces my time in the other two. Now, focusing on one area does not mean I’ll not make mistakes in the others. Every single part of the process will incur wrong-turns, errors, and realisations that the current stuff isn’t good enough. But hopefully by putting a lot of leg-work into the planning phase, it should reduce – not eliminate – the time spent in drafting and revising. 

As a thought experiment I worked through what my process would look like if I favoured any of the three parts.

Planning: I spend a lot of time refining outlines, building the world, checking the underlying structure, and fixing the foundations as much as I can, until I reach the natural point where I should begin drafting. Whenever I hit a snag in the drafting or revision phase, I immediately stop and go back to planning, and then continue where I left off. In theory, I shouldn’t draft too many wasted words, and revision shouldn’t be too hefty – dealing more with words and sentences than the underlying story.

Drafting: I spend a minimal amount of prep (if any) before diving into my story. I draft far more words than I need for manuscript, and learn about the story by writing it out. I read back every day, checking where the story has gone stale or off-course, and needs to be rewritten. By the time I reach The End, I’ve got a decent draft, thanks to all my rewriting along the way. Revision will be focused on little details. 

Revising: The typical Nano method. I spend a short amount of time on a plan, enough to get a general feel for the book, and then I vomit out a draft, not reading back, not correcting, but simply getting to The End no matter how hard it is. I turn off my inner editor and fly on momentum. Then, the hard work begins. I spend a large amount of time pulling the book apart and fixing it through revision. New scenes will need to be written, but drafting will be kept to a minimum. My job here is to fix what I have already. 

I favour planning, so my method looks more like the top description. I wish I favoured drafting, because I think that’s the best way to learn about your story. However, it doesn’t fit with my process. I certainly tried for a lot of the last couple of years to be the writer who explores everything through drafting, but I get stressed when I know I’m writing a mess, and then I get so deep into the book I can’t see where it’s gone wrong. I need to see the structure of a book from up high, usually in the form of many (many) spreadsheets. 

The point of all this is to demonstrate that every stage counts, and even if you’re not a lover of drafting, there are ways to get around it. Doesn’t make you any less of a storyteller.