The past four years have been an interesting experiment in the ways of writing a novel. The second book of my science fiction/fantasy series was published September 1, 2016 – just thirty days ago. The manner in which it was written was completely different from the first book and the third book is being written in yet a different method.
Book number one began many years ago as a short story when I was fourteen. Yep, ancient history since I am now approaching the great age of sixty. The Blood was written over decades as family life and circumstances allowed. The writing was basically linear. Start here, what happens next, and next, and next, and finally here is the end. The only major change was that the opening scenes were moved around a bit. Yet, it was still basically written from a beginning to an end.
Book two’s first draft took me thirty days to write thanks to NaNoWriMo in 2012. The challenge was to write fifty thousand words in thirty days! I figured I should try a different method of writing if I wanted to be alive when the second book got published. So while the first book was being looked at by my carefully chosen editor during November 2012 I took on the challenge of creating the base for the follow up novel, The Balance. I decided that instead of trying to be linear I would just write scenes that hopefully would come to me every day – and prayed that some of it would be good. I gave myself the freedom to write crappy stuff along with the amazing. I knew it would all be edited uncountable times in the future and so I wrote with abandon. And after thirty days I found I had scribbled over fifty two thousand words. I patted myself on the back and put it off to the side because the first book came back to me and there was a lot of work to do before publishing it.
While I found the process of writing whatever scenes popped into my head in the morning invigorating and joyful I struggled to NOT edit what I had written the day before. The discipline of just getting words down actually freed up my imagination and by the end of the month all sorts of surprising things occurred. Most important was the appearance of “the bitch in the corner.” All sorts of questions popped up when she showed up in a scene – rather she was standing in the shadows making snide comments to my antagonist and I had no idea where she’d come from. She intrigued me. I had not planned on her. And I believe that the free writing of the NaNoWriMo allowed her to come forward. If I had tried to write the second book linearly I am not sure she would have announced herself. It was not until after the first book was published and I returned to that very messy draft that I discovered she was actually in the first book as a very minor character. And while she is still a minor character in the second book she has come alive and will be featured more prominently in the third and fourth books. She is important. I am still learning about her. She fascinates me. She is going to be fun to write!
Soon after The Blood was published in May 2014, I realized the haphazard just-write-whatever-scene-you-want method I had employed with the first draft of The Balance was going to cause me all sorts of trouble. In order to bring order to that draft’s chaos I printed it, then physically cut each scene out, stapled it together and laid it on the carpet with a one sentence label of what happened. I studied each scene and arranged and rearranged the scenes until I felt it was almost in the correct order. While doing this I added colored notes of what I thought might be transitional scene yet to be written. Once that was complete I returned to the computer and painstakingly organized the electronic draft to match the sequence of scenes on the floor. I even posted those notes on a white board to get a condensed visual of the story. Over the next ten months I added another forty thousand or so words and it smoothed out. The Balance was published September 1, 2016.
Now as I begin work on the third installment of the series, The Blades, I am tackling the writing process in yet a different way. I still want the challenge and freedom of the NaNoWriMo but I also know, now, that I need a structure around which to build the story. So while reading a published electronic copy of The Balance this past month, I highlighted sections, questions, subplots, etc. and made notes as to which could be tied up in the third book and which ones will most likely be continued into the fourth title, The Seventh Stone. The ability to highlight and comment or make notes in the electronic version is giving me a template for scenes and topics as well as a rudimentary outline. I also have picked up a resource book, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson, to help build the needed structure for the story and character arcs I have in mind. This being said, the vast difference between the decades long careful linear writing of The Blood and the crazy mad word gushing that NaNoWriMo allowed for the basis of The Balance, has a enabled me to be okay with a variety of methods to write a novel. To be honest, I enjoyed both and look forward to experimenting with a couple of other ways. Now when I am stuck I have a several things to try that will shake me out of whatever hole/rut I have dug.
What I am finding is that an author does not have to write each book or story in the same manner as the first. If you are open to and honestly try new ways you may discover new things about your characters and their stories. Don’t hobble your imagination by deepening your writing rut. Climb out, let go of the constraints, and try something different. If it doesn’t work – don’t have regrets and don’t retreat to the rut. Stay out and play with words.