Prewriting Tools

Since I’m in the planning stage of book 3 (which is tentatively known as the Touchdown novel, so far), I’ve been thinking a lot about my prewriting process. As I alluded to in a recent progress update, my prewriting process continues to evolve.

It started with how I never used to do outline. And how I never used to finish anything.

I have the beginnings of several books written, artifacts of past ideas tucked into drawers and saved on archaic floppy disks. My process used to be that I’d get really excited about an idea and write a few chapters as the character’s voice took me. I’d eventually peter out, get frustrated, convince myself that I could never be a writer, and put the book in the drawer, where it would stay indefinitely and be forgotten when the next idea hit.

It only took several years of doing this same process over and over again for me to realize that the process wasn’t working. But I had also tried outlining, and that whole process seemed to suck the life out of my enthusiasm before I even got words on the page. What was I to do?

So when I hit the point where my enthusiasm waned with the plague novel, I despaired of ever finishing it.

Until I realized that my enthusiasm was dead anyway, so why not outline to the end?

It worked! I managed to finish the novel and, after the course of many rewrites, it turned into something I’m very proud of. Even though no one has bought it (yet), I can look at the novel and know that I actually accomplished something that’s a pretty big deal. That happened almost solely because I decided to experiment with my process.

I learned something by experimenting: no amount of enthusiasm is going to carry me the entire way through a book, and I need to be willing to compromise between how I think writing should go and how it actually goes.

That experience has led to the hybrid process I use now. For the Fight novel, I wrote a test chapter to find my characters and then outlined from there. I’m pretty sure the test chapter isn’t going to make it into the finished book, but that’s okay. It got me excited about writing. And the outline only increased that enthusiasm instead of took it away.

For the Touchdown novel, I’m trying to do something completely different. I have the concept, the core idea that keeps me excited, in my head. And instead of writing that as a test chapter, I’m trying to write my way into the characters with first-person backgrounds instead. I’m not sure how this process will work in the end. I might go back to the process that I used for the Flight novel.

But willingness to play around with process is how I’ve finished two manuscripts. At this point, I think the possible benefits from trying new things far outweighs the possible drawbacks of wasting time.

Progress Update, Touchdown Prewriting

This week was a slow writing week.  First, the weather was very gray and depressing, and I had trouble keeping up my motivation to write.  A lot of my writing time was supposed to be “research,” which turned into staring off into space and thinking.  Second, I accidentally overwrote a file from the backup (instead of updating the backup to reflect the new file), which resulted in me having a little tantrum and not writing at all on Thursday.

I continued to do background space/science/exoplanet research over the weekend.  Around Monday, I realized that I’ve probably done about as much background research as I can do without getting into specifics of what I’ll need to research I’ll need to do for my setting and plot.  I did a couple of plot bullets and then decided to start fleshing out my thumbnail character sheets, because when I’m writing my characters, I often discover plot points in their backgrounds.  What I’ll do later is take the character sheets and plot bullets and form those into a full, in-depth outline.

Character work is hard guys.  I want my characters to be real people, but I also want them to have specific traits that feed into the direction I see the plot going.  I like to discovery write my characters to a certain extent, but I also want to have them sort of figured out before I start writing so that I don’t have to go back and make a bunch of consistency changes later.  I’ve previously gone from completely discovery writing my characters (Plague novel) to having at least a basic little sheet worked up (Flight novel).  The little basic sheets were really helpful.  But for the Touchdown novel, I’m trying to take this one step further by getting a lot of my character discovery done in prewriting.

This means I’m writing first-person narrative backgrounds, in the characters’ voices, for each of my main characters and the main antagonist.  This is proving to be very difficult, and it didn’t help that I overwrote a background that it took me two hours to write.  Fingers crossed that this pays off in the end.

Fortunately, blogging refocuses me when I get frustrated and I needed to do some substantive posts anyway.  I’ve added four blog posts to the queue, which means I’m good for Monday posts through mid-March.