Recently I've changed the way I write fiction.
You know me. For years I've been saying the best way to get past novel writing blocks is to write your first draft quickly. Get the words and the story down first and worry about the editing later.
This process certainly works if you're having doubts about your ability to actually get a whole book written. The principle of letting go of your inner critic is valuable - especially if you're prone to blocks.
My last novel was around 90000 words, which I wrote very quickly.
After the initial draft I sat down and then plotted the whole thing - a mistake to be sure but my feeling is that you have to do whatever works for whatever piece you're working on. Different MSS often need a different approach so that you don't go stale sticking to own self imposed routines.
That's fine. Embrace change.
Sometimes an idea is so strong you just want to get started - as I did with my last novel. I loved the premise so much I managed to pump out the entire manuscript without formally plotting it.
Then, problem was, after the first draft - and the rethink of the plot, I had to rewrite the entire thing again!
Mainly to sort out issues to do with timing - it was a minute by minute thriller after all. But also I changed the order of some of the deaths - and slightly altered the perspective of the lead character.
So far so good.
But then it came to the editing. I did one run through. Just tightening up the prose until I was fairly happy with it - I thought!
Then I gave the manuscript to one of my assistants to read. She's nearer the age of the lead character and I wanted her feedback. She had some criticisms. Fair enough.
One more edit.
Then I thought I was ready to send it out.
I did and got a couple of rejections. Okay. Can't win them all.
Then I thought, what if I wanted to publish the book myself?
Good in theory - so I began the process.
I decided I'd need a stronger opening so wrote a new prologue.
Trouble was, I was so impressed with the writing in the new prologue, I realized I'd have to make the rest of the book as good!
So another edit ensued. This one took ages. I basically had to re-look at every line, every word, every paragraph and chapter - to make the manuscript as strong as it should be.
Maybe in the two years that it had taken to get the book finished, I had grown and changed. I started to feel like I was editing someone else's book. That I was no longer the person that had written the first draft.
Good, really. But it meant I had to do a lot more work at the end of the novel writing process that I would ever have envisaged at the beginning.
The consequence of all this unexpected work was that I decided I wasn't going to do this for the next one.
So, as I said at the beginning, I changed the way I write fiction.
Just slightly. I mean I'm still the same story teller. I can still see my voice in the writing. But now I've changed just one aspect.
Yes, I've slowed down.
Instead of writing my most recent book as fast and furiously as possible, I decided that a more considered pace was appropriate - at least for this story.
Basically I just don't want to spend so long editing this one - so I'm taking my time over which words I use to express myself during the first draft.
Why? Because I'm deliberately looking for all the things I usually want to edit out later.
Things like the overuse of adverbs, 'ing' words, the word 'it' and anything woolly sounding like 'just', 'felt', 'decided' and 'thought'.
The interesting thing is that if you try and avoid the woolly stuff the first time around, it seems to change your writing - almost fundamentally.
Passages of description suddenly become much more specific - and effective. And when you're forced to write without adverbs, you realize you have to change the way you say things in order to get the 'ly' word across without actually using it!
But the other thing that's really helped this new book is that I plotted the whole thing from beginning to end first - before I did any writing.
Just like all those bestseller writers I'm always telling you about, I wrote a very detailed outline of the story before I began.
Now that doesn't mean the novel slavishly follows the template. No, as you'd expect, new scenarios, even new characters seem to appear as I'm writing. But that's okay.
At least now I know that as I'm writing, the quality is fairly good. Not because it's literary or clever - far from it.
The purpose of clarity in writing, I believe, is to serve the reader.
And whatever technique you or I choose to employ is to that end.
I feel this time - in this latest novel - I have at last found the right balance between my own technique and its end purpose. That is, to entertain (and to sell a squillion copies of course!
Plus, I'm enjoying the process.
Time will tell.
(c) Rob Parnell
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