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A Writing Journey

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Part 2:
Slow Starts and Partial Drafts

Last month, we discussed my method of coming up with story ideas, but that is only the beginning of the long process of writing a book. Once I have a solid idea that I'm ready to pursue, I begin writing the first draft. While this step ought to be pretty straight-forward, my process is, unfortunately, far from simple.

I am what some writers call a 'pantser', or my preferred term, a discovery writer. A discovery writer is someone who discovers their story by writing it, ('flying by the seat of their pants'), instead of outlining it in advance. As much as I would love to plan my stories before writing them, I've never had much luck with it. I have a pretty good idea of where they start, a vague idea where they end, and a shockingly loose grasp on how the two points might connect.

This means that writing a first draft is a process of trial and error, and usually involves some false starts. While it is far from the most efficient method, I've noticed a pattern to my first drafts. Typically, I will write whatever comes to mind, until I get stimmed or the story goes too far off-track. I will try to brainstorm solutions, but if nothing is forthcoming, I set the story aside and do something else for a while.

Once I've identified where the story went wrong or have figured out where it should go next, I return to the draft. But instead of continuing where I left off, I usually start over from scratch, even if it means rewriting a lot of the same material!

I do this because I find it difficult to write the story organically once I've lost too much momentum. Starting over allows me to recreate the 'flow' so that the story can grow naturally. I may restart my first draft several times, depending on how many times I get stuck. While this method helps me develop the story, I am hoping to get better at completing a first draft without the restarts, as it is is not a very time efficient approach!

As for quality, my first drafts are pretty atrocious. They are full of blank spaces, storylines that appear and disappear without warning, and notes to myself. (Things like "I don't know what's going to happen next, but there's some kind of fight, and so and so gets hurt", or "not sure, maybe they spend a night doing this", or "add in some dialogue here", etc.)

Sometimes, the scenes flow and I'm able to write excellent prose that can be reused in later drafts, but generally, I don't worry about word choice, sentence structure, or descriptions at all. As a result, the writing can be flat, cheesy, over-the-top, or in some cases, barely coherent.

The point is to get the ideas in order before worrying about the writing. Once I have a basic outline in place and have identified the major themes, character arcs and 'big moments', then I start worrying about making it sound good!

 

Once the idea for When Shadows Fall was developed enough to make a go of it, I launched into writing the first draft. I got three chapters in before a family camping trip called me away from the project. I took a break from it after returning home (at the time, I was focusing my attention on a middle grade fantasy titled Mulgrin's Quest) and didn't pick it up again for a couple years.

When I came back to it, I started over from the beginning, expanding the first two chapters and completely overhauling the third before moving on with the story. I got to chapter eleven before hitting another wall. I knew where the main character was supposed to go, but the journey there was a total blank. I tried writing a few ideas—some of which stayed and some of which were later cut—before finally admitting I had no idea what I was doing.

I let the story rest once more, and when I came back to it with new ideas, I started over yet again, adding in a new character and some new scenes, refining the previous ideas, and finally writing the story through to the end.

It was a messy draft, particularly in regards to the middle and end, but at last, I felt like I had all the pieces in place. Which meant I was finally ready for the next step...

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