Closing In

Some of you know – because you follow my personal blog – that I’ve started a new book as of April 17, 2015.

What those only following this blog won’t know, is I’ve done it using a new (to me) method of writing which was aptly described by author Dean Wesley Smith as “Writing into the Dark.”

Mr. Smith blogged about the process over the course of six or seven weeks, and I must say, I followed with great interest. I’d been migrating through a lot of different “techniques” and “methods” for writing, most of which focused on planning.

I discovered outlining and planning according to a four-part story structure map back in 2009. I’ve blogged extensively about it. Raved about it. Ranted about it. Made mockery of any writer unwilling to try it. And then I stopped being able to write because of it.

It’s a long story, but in a nutshell, the more detailed my story map, the more my creative voice – the part of us which is the creative force behind the writing, the artistic part – believed the story was already written. I didn’t see this myself; my loving spouse Vanessa spotted it, identified it, and pointed it out to me. I didn’t believe her until I tried something new after almost four years of not writing.

During those four years I created a lot of plot outlines. I got more and more detailed with them as I went. And finally, I (re)discovered Dramatica theory of story, and it’s magnificent and mathematical forms and structures for creating complete story “arguments.”

But I didn’t write any books. I think I managed a short story with fellow aspiring author Bryce Beattie, but that’s about it. And when I compared the way that story happened and the other things I tried to write, it all came so clear.

My loving wife was right all along. Once I’ve done plot development on the story, my creative voice thinks it’s already been written. And I lose interest in it.

What Dean Wesley Smith advocated as an approach was writing without an outline, without a plan, without foreknowledge of where the story will go, how it will get there, or what the ending is. In fact, he advocated knowing none of the things most outliners and planners say you must know before beginning the book.

The reasoning, he states, is that if you – the writer – don’t know where the story’s going or how it will end, then neither will a reader. Arguments against this are manifold and come from all different sources, including famous plotting and outlining writers, or “story coaches,” and yet, DWS has written more than 130 novels and uses this method regularly.

So, with what I considered nothing to lose – I mean, I wasn’t doing any writing anyway, so worst case is, I never finish because of whatever issues come with this method – I embarked on the journey. I read DWS’s blog posts every time he posted them, and paid close attention to what he said. I found several refreshing things in it.

  • You’re only allowed ONE (1) draft. The first draft is the final draft. You have to get it right; no reliance on the excuse of being able to “fix it in editing.” Give your absolute best effort, every time you sit down to write. And that’s the biggest plus it had to me – you only have one chance to write this book. No more drafting and re-drafting and re-drafting, for years. BIG plus, to me.
  • Every time you sit down to write, you read through what you wrote the last time you sat down to write, and do any clean-up, editing, and repairs you can spot. Fix issues. Catch everything you can spot, and make sure it’s clean. Let the momentum from what you built the session before carry you into the new session, and write again. I love that, and it really works.
  • Outline!…but not until AFTER you’ve written. Take that in – you go back after each writing session and add what you wrote to a “reverse outline,” which is created after the fact. This document helps you keep track of locations, characters, settings, clothes and accessories if that’s important, and can help with time lines and other aspects of the writing.

Those things really sold me on the method, because they address everything wrong with writing without a plan.

Other aspects I like are, when something needs to be gathered, researched, or determined, do it now, not later. Don’t put a placeholder in that spot because you’re “on a roll.” So what? Your creative voice wants that information to move forward in the story. So get it!

And you have to be free to move back and forth in the story irrespective of time. You, the writer, don’t experience the story the same way the reader does. Think about how movies are made. The scenes you see weren’t always shot in the order you viewed them. Lots of writers are limited by the constraints of starting at “Once upon a time…” and working straight through, linearly, to “…happily ever after.” It’s not necessary. Move around in the story. Go back, add plants or foreshadowing. Why not? Move ahead, write the related scene now, even though the reader won’t see it for another eight chapters. You’re in control, the creator of the story world and time line. Move around in it. Which allows you to…

Write the next sentence. And remember, “the next sentence” isn’t necessarily the next one the reader will see in the story. It’s the next thing you write, and it will keep you writing. Holly Lisle uses the term “Candy Bar Scenes.” If you’re stuck, and backing up and re-reading what you wrote doesn’t liberate you, then just write the next sentence, which might be that “Candy Bar Scene” you’ve been working toward. Let the creative voice be free, and you can back-fill the linking scenes when you’re writing is flowing again.

What this meant to me was, I only spent a few days at a time being “stuck.” There was no more “writer’s block” of any kind. I think the longest pause I took was something like five days, and that had more to do with life aside from writing than it did with being “stuck” on something. Those things which seemed like walls before became speed bumps.

In less than three months (as of this writing), I’ve logged a whopping 61K words, more or less. I should be able to wrap the book up either this weekend or next, depending. And the only editing I’m going to do will be copy editing. There will be no second draft; this is going to be it.

And you know what? My First Reader loves it so far. She’s raved about how happy it makes her to see me writing again, really writing. And I have to say, this is working great. Not good, not nice, great. I can’t believe how great, actually.

So, by the time August rolls around, I should be well into reworking my first book in this series, taking what I’ve already done, reverse outlining it to capture the record of it, and then pushing forward, into the dark, to see what may come. My skills are significantly improved since the initial version some eight years ago now (wow, really?!). It should shake out pretty well, I’d think.

And then? Well, then there’s one of my more beloved stories, my only attempt at literary fiction so far, which has languished far too long. I have a sequel to Scales of Justice which I flicked at, but stopped when I thought I needed an outline. There’s the third book (which started life as the second book) in this series. And all those books I outlined? Yeah, I’m gonna take a swing – into the dark, of course – at those ideas, without their outlines.

So, lots and lots coming. And if I have time or need a break amid all that, I’ll do some short fiction. You should see that here before it goes live on Amazon, NOOK Press, Kobo, Smashwords, and anywhere else I can put it.

So, I apologize for seven months of silence, but I’ve been pretty busy. I hope what comes out of all this will make up for the lost time.


2 thoughts on “Closing In

  1. Shawn McDonald

    Number 1 makes my sphincter pucker. But all the rest… Rock on. You never stop editing. Never.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. It’s entirely possible to edit and polish so much you take your own voice right out of the piece. I think there is such a thing as finished, for where I am today, at my current skill level. I also now know this is why they make chocolate AND vanilla. πŸ™‚

    When Dave Eggers was touring and doing readings for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, he had a schtick where he’d be reading the first chapter to the audience and he’d stop. He’d look at his copy of his book with a puzzled expression. Then he’d pull out a red pen and copy edit his copy of his book.

    Then he’d have anybody in the audience who brought their copy of the book pass THEIR book to the front so he could make the edit in red ink.

    Point being, a book is never finished. But past that…

    See my response above, Dave Eggers notwithstanding.

    Stop blogging and WRITE, BITCH!

    Hey, that’s what weekends are for, right? πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by, Shawn! Very good to see you again!

    (I’ll just stand in the corner and hum the theme from Rocky.)

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