I know. I do go on about this quite a bit, but when you’re at the end of a second book with a lot (I mean a lot) of editing ahead, it does tend to rub your nose in it. And writing’s a kind of nasal gazing activity, and I’ll be teaching the year of the novel at QWC next year, so how I write novels has very much been on my mind.
You see, I don’t plan them- not one little bit*. I tend to start a novel with a scene that may be the beginning and may be the middle, and I tend to have an end point, but that’s about it. I write in an extremely non-linear fashion. And it seems to work for me. I write and I fill in scenes and jump around, until I’ve written a book length manuscript, and then I move those scenes around, cut and change things, and fill in the gaps.
I write like people shoot films, quite often without any idea of what goes where, just trusting that it does. And sometimes it doesn’t, but usually I’m heading in one direction, even if the scenes don’t appear to at first.
So that first draft is all about energy, about getting the stuff in my head down. The second is about filling in gaps and moving scenes around, and the third and subsequent drafts are all about logic and internal rhythm, and working out what the book is about. Which, as you’d imagine is the longest stage.
I’m at this last stage with Managing Death. The bulk of the manuscript is written, people have suffered, major characters have died (no spoilers there, the books are about Death). And, until today, I hadn’t read the manuscript from A-Z. But now I have, and it makes sense – sort of, which is always an incredible relief to me. My ms is covered with hand written notes and post-it notes, some as detailed as actual scenes and others as vague as “write more here”.
From here I will spend my free time filling in the plot holes, and tidying the writing, looking at the consistency of the voice – it’s a darker story than book one, but the character is the same character and it is his voice that tells the story – and generally working on the novel until it makes sense to me.
Then, some time early next year, I’ll get my structural edits, and that will be the real test. Whether it makes sense to someone else, whether it works, whether the pacing is right, whether it’s funny, or dark enough.
That’s when the next level , the real personally challenging work will begin, because this story won’t just be something spun out of the illogical recesses of my mind it will be a novel with readers, and the questions they ask. And, as a novel, it will work or fail depending on how well I honour that connection. Because the process up to then is all mine, but after that it is a shared thing between me and the editors and the readers of the books. And it goes from being abstract and fun to something solid and capable of failure.
That’s the scary challenge of writing and publishing as opposed to writing alone. And you face that no matter how you get the words down.
Which sounds a lot grimmer than it is, because hey, I love this writing thing, and I’m dying for people to read these books, but I just wanted to share the chaos out of which they come, and the work that goes into making them make sense.
*I’ve tried, but I never read my notes. I just find them months after the event and it’s always interesting (to me) to see how far I’ve actually diverged from those notes (usually a lot).