From April to November of 2016, I wrote four drafts of the same book: My desert fantasy novel. Each time I did, I would tweak little things here and there. Sometimes major things, too. Where I began the book would be far different from where I ended it each time.
It was frustrating to have four different books each time, none of them seemingly closer to being completed than the last.
It was especially frustrating, as I was planning on releasing the book last year. The best laid plans, eh?
In writing my book, I tried some casual outlining in the beginning and throughout, but nothing too serious. I’m not too good at keeping myself to bullet points when the story pulls me in a different direction. The guidelines of an outline begin to feel like chains, and I either fizzle out or lose interest, or completely go off the rails.
In the world of creative writing, I’m typically a “pantser” or a “discovery-writer”, which means that I am more comfortable writing by the seat of my pants, or coming up with the story as I go, rather than plotting it ahead of time.
The problem I faced in 2016 is a profound one: During each of my revisions to the book, there was much less that was revised by the end, and much more that was new. Characters dropped out, or were added in, new elements of the story came into place, while old ones were taken out. I felt like I was going in the right direction each time, but the story wasn’t quite right.
And by November I didn’t have the heart to write a fifth version of the book. Especially when I knew that it wouldn’t be any closer to being done than the last. I also had a novella that I wanted to write for submission to Tor.com.
But in the last couple of months, I’ve come up with a way to write more effectively. Because I will be the first to admit, though I got a lot of good practice in during that April-November Writing Season, it wasn’t effective. And I was eager to learn something, to make it more effective, to make my writing process more efficient.
And this is what I realized: I can do my “discovery-writing” as an outline. This way, I can make an outline that is virtually an extended “elevator-pitch” of my story, rather than use whole drafts as outlines that will be scrapped later.
The first draft of my novel was just over 50,000 words. The second draft was around 70,000 words. The third draft was over 81,000 words, and the fourth draft was just over 71,000 words. That’s about 1,133 words per day, each day during that time, but that doesn’t count the rewrites, revisions, deletions, and additions. That’s just raw count.
As I am revisiting the story this time, I have been “discovery-writing” the outline, and I’ve written just over 4,000 words. I have a breakdown of scenes, elements, characters, plot points, the world, etc. I know where the story starts, and I know where the story begins. It isn’t a rigid set of bullet points, but its a flowing story, this outline. And it’s still being revised. But it’s nearing completion.
When I set begin to write the book for the fifth time, it won’t be about adhering to this outline as a map. It will simply be about expanding the paragraph or two for each scene into larger scenes of hundreds to thousands of words. Because this is my story, albeit in a very short form.
How do I know this will work?
Because I’ve been trying it out over the past two months with short stories. I’ve written 4 short stories using this method, and it’s worked just fine. Not only that, but it gives me the freedom to move around in the project if I feel stuck or stymied by one section. I don’t feel like working on the beginning? That’s OK. I can work on the end.
I’m glad I wrote this novel as many times as I did last year. I feel like its made me a better writer, and a better storyteller. However, I need to be more efficient with my time and resources.
Hopefully the lessons I’ve learned in the last year will keep me on track.