Monday, December 28, 2009

Driving Without Headlights - Revisited

I recently mentioned that I was starting my next novel - The Weight of Souls - without using any kind of outline and without stopping to review or edit as I went. This approach is completely new for me, and I was deeply cynical as to whether it would work. Nonetheless, I thought I'd give it a go.

In the end, I reached about 31,000 words before giving up. In my mind, the story had descended into a twisting morass of plot-ends, shallow characters and repetitive action. I was all set to write a blog post confirming that, for me, the non-outline approach doesn't work, and I now needed to start over from scratch. Presuming, that is, I ever had the heart to return to The Weight of Souls.

Then, a funny thing happened. A bit over a week ago, I sat down late one evening and decided to read through the 31K words I had written. I was fully expecting to cringe at every turn, and perhaps find myself unable to reach the end before giving up in disgust. Instead, to my utter amazement, I thought what I had written was quite good - very much worthy of first draft status. Yes, the characters are shallow and need a lot of fleshing out, as does the description, environment, and the overall back-story. But the plot works well, and most importantly, the voice and feel that I had hoped would come across appears to do so.

The next day, I got stuck back into it. As I write this, I'm sitting at 41,000 words, and aiming to finish the draft by New Years. That means I'm writing something close to 2,500 words a day, but I now feel encouraged that this approach can indeed work, and I'm not totally wasting my time.

I can now see the advantages of using this method, and I think I'll stick with it for the time being - provided the final result for this novel is what I would have hoped.

I'm enjoying it enormously. Even better, it's helping take my mind off my continuing wait for news of Ping-Ling. The manuscript has now been sitting in a publisher's office (at least, I hope that's where it is and it didn't get lost in the mail) for approaching 12 weeks, and I no longer have any fingernails left. Any distraction is very welcome.


  1. Oh congrats to you! Sometimes getting away from something is for the best, and I've done the same, thought I'd only written rubbish, but a few choice nuggets remain!

    As for Ping-Ling, sigh... The waiting is truly one of the hardest parts! Wishing for you news and writing joy in 2010!

    (And sleep, with that new family member arriving!)

  2. heh. i'm always amazed by how not-atrocious my first drafts are. (which says more about how irredeemably appalling i think they are than it does about them being any good ;)

  3. Thankyou Anna,

    We already have twin 3 year old boys, so going without sleep is a well-honed skill! I hope you have a great new years as well, thanks for all your comments here on the blog!

  4. Hi Deb,

    Well, I have to admit that when you wrote on your blog about how bad your first drafts are, I thought how interesting it would be to see them :-)

    You're right, I think we do tend to have a lower opinion of our own work than what's justified. Probably better than being at the other extreme.

    Have a great new years! I'm really looking forward to reading Pledged (aka book 2) :-)

  5. Heh. One day I should post up a passage of Shadow Queen, and how it changed through various drafts. In fact, that's a good idea - I might learn something from it ;)

  6. I'm so glad you're sticking with it, Peter!

    I have similar experiences with my stories. I tend to get bored with them long before I finish, and I start thinking they aren't any good or worth finishing. Often when I go back, I'm surprised to find little nuggets that make me smile or laugh and that inspire me to get back into it. Sometimes, I do best when I just give myself the goal of writing 1,000 words a day, whether I'm liking what I'm working on or not, hehe.