mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

The Importance of Flexibility for a Writer

As readers of my blog know, I've been spending the past few months writing a novel. (Will this become yet another unpublished book? Stay tuned!) Today's page production reminded me of the need to be flexible when writing, and I thought I'd share that with you.

Let me start off by describing my usual method of writing. I tend to think of myself as a "non-linear" writer, which means that I don't usually sit down and write a story from beginning to end. I keep an open document for the story in my computer, and as I write, I find myself jumping back and forth between scenes. So, for example, I might be working on an early scene in the story, and then a line of dialogue that would fit a later scene perfectly pops into my head. I'll go forward in the document, write down that line, and then perhaps a few more lines in that scene. Then a line of description that makes sense for an earlier scene will occur to me, and I'll jump back to jot it down. Etc., etc., and so forth.

Consequently, my works in progress are usually a mess. They are filled with lots of empty spaces, and asterisks marking places I need to fill in with more writing, and notes to myself like ***FIX THIS*** or ***DESCRIBE BETTER** or ***THIS SUCKS, WHAT EVER CONVINCED ME I COULD BE A WRITER?*** You know, stuff like that. Trying to read one of these "decimal point drafts" (called such because they come before my first draft) would be difficult for anyone other than me; I know what the connections should be between stuff I've already written; I just need to write them.

(At this point I should publicly acknowledge gnomi, who somehow manages to read through every day's production with enough understanding to give me coherent feedback. Despite the asterisks.)

So...getting to flexibility. Today I was in the middle of chapter 8, planning to write my six pages. And after writing my first three pages in the morning and running errands (including a spiffy new haircut, if you must know), I came back to the computer and found myself stuck. I know what has to happen in the rest of the chapter; I just didn't feel like writing it.

Now, some writers might decide that means the writing day is over; three pages is a respectable amount of work, and I know of at least one professional writer who only manages that many pages a day, and yet has won Hugos and Nebulas. But I had set a goal of six pages for today (okay, okay, actually I had set a goal of eight) and I didn't want to just give up.

The problem is that I haven't quite been using my natural style of writing, as I described before. Part of me has been trying to work on this novel from beginning to end; so each day I've been opening a document for the current chapter, then jumping around in that chapter. But what I realized today was that the current chapter didn't fit my mood anymore; I really wanted to work on a major confrontation scene that takes place in chapter 11. (***Bankruptcy joke goes here.***)

So...that's what I did. I created a file for chapter 11, blithely ignored the fact that I haven't even written chapters 9 and 10 yet, and started writing. And this time, the writing flew, and I got my pages done within an hour.

I highly recommend shaking things up like this when one's writing stalls. But there's also a trap to watch out for. If you're writing a section which is dragging you down, it might be because that section itself is dull or boring. Watch out for the clues that the scene is dragging, and make sure to spice it up with tensions and vigorous verbs.

Which is probably a topic for a later post...
Tags: novel, writing-advice
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