I’ll apologise here right at the outset: this is going to sound like the most braggy writing tips post there will ever be, but that’s really not my intention. I have a very important point to make.
On Wednesday the 18th of July, I began a new draft of the novel I started for NaNoWriMo last year. It’s a high-concept, LGBT-themed novel for the New Adult market, with, I believe, huge potential for crossover into the adult market proper.
I made a mistake with the first draft – I did the one thing that, as it turned out, doesn’t work for me – I planned it out.
You may have read my post from a few weeks back when I spoke a little about being a pantser. I’d never planned a novel before. I wanted to try it to see how I got on, but it failed at about the 5th chapter.
The way the plot turned out just didn’t work and I couldn’t find a way forward. So instead of struggling to try and finish it, where I surely would have spent months looking at a blank page, I moved on to writing something else.
So what happened exactly?
Well, obviously I can’t say for sure. But it felt like, with my first draft, I’d set out on an expedition and, at some point, I’d become lost and couldn’t find my way forward. Stopping work and shelving the novel was a bit like pushing a reset button to take me back to the start again.
In his book, Creating Short Fiction, Damon Knight writes about solving problems in your writing by leaving them overnight and allowing your subconscious to work them out for you. He thinks that more often than not, you’ll wake up with the answer.
The seven months the novel spent on the shelf gave my subconscious the time it needed to work on the novel for me. In essence, it felt like I was stocking up and resupplying for the next trek into the unknown.
And the first draft, even though it had failed, was useful. It had given me a partial map of the landscape into which I was returning. But because I was setting out from the beginning again, after such a long time, I didn’t feel compelled to go in the same direction.
The seven months I’d given it to gestate in my mind had done wonders, and I wrote the entire second draft – 60,000 words – in 11 days.
So this is today’s writing tip: if a project you’re on isn’t working, even though you’ve made some solid attempts to push forward, shelve it!
Don’t spend months looking at a blank page/screen. Move onto something else which excites and inspires you.
I think this is also generally good advice, even when a draft has been successful. Go work on something else for a while before you return to do the edits. The time apart will give you some essential distance and enable you to see your project more clearly with fresher eyes. Resting is part of the work you have to do to bring your writing to completion
Now, go write!