Monday, November 20, 2006

Planning Into a Corner

Mindless activity like showers and driving trigger my creative brain. Sometimes my analytical brain, too, or both together. The other day, I had a shower like that. It gave me this blog post.

I write linearly. I start at the beginning and write to the end. I'll edit as I go, and usually once I hit about 100 pages and again around 2/3 of the way through the book I'll do a complete run-through, to find threads I dropped or fill out some plot or characterization, now that I know where the story is going and who the main characters are. When I'm done with the first draft, I run through the whole book once, go through a critique cycle with some trusted partners, then print and proof the final copy.

The story will start percolating long before I write the first word, and it continues to bubble as I go. It never completely leaves my mind, and scenes will often develop while I'm doing that mindless activity I mentioned (can add dishes and laundry to the list). I might jot notes or a few lines of dialogue as soon as I can get to a pen. If the scene is the next one in the book, I might pull out the Alphasmart and get the bones down until I can get to the main document.

But I never, ever (almost never) write ahead.

I didn't really know why until recently. I thought I was just stubborn, or that it stemmed from my need to discover the story just the way I do when I read someone else's book. But a couple of things happened that gave me more insight into my own process.

The first was that my opening of my last book stank. It often does. I have an idea of what I expect the book to be, and I write the opening to that expectation. Then the story and tone and characters evolve, and the majority of the book is very different from that opening. But for some reason, when I edit on my own, I have a hard time doing away with it. I'm not married to my words, for the most part. I cut scenes all the time, saving them in a "discard" file in case I want to use them (and rarely do). So it takes someone else telling me "this doesn't work" before I can disconnect myself from it and change it.

And that's why I don't write ahead, even if a scene forms in my mind that's perfect. I'm afraid I'll write it, then when the time comes to fit it together with the rest of the book, it won't work and I won't be able to let go of it.

The other thing that happened that made me come to this realization was that I did it. I wrote some of the last chapter of my last book, well ahead of time. It was a tone I didn't want to lose, and an aide--I didn't know which potential hero the heroine was going to choose, and writing that scene helped me figure it out. Which made writing the scenes before it much easier, because they set up that choice at the end. I wasn't consciously sure until I finished the scene, but my subconscious knew. It just wanted the rest of me to have the fun of finding out at the last minute.

Since it worked so well with that book, I was wondering why I don't do it all the time. And that's when I realized I was protecting myself from a harder job down the line.

Anyone else feel like this?


Anonymous said...

HI Natalie. Whew! Major psych analysis there. Do you charge? I don't write ahead either, but I do plan scenes ahead including the last chapter. I never forget where I'm heading, but I do sometimes change it when I get there. Sometimes I even have the exact words in my head. I only have to worry they don't get lost in all that empty space between my ears.

MJFredrick said...

I can never write ahead - or if I do, I don't keep it because something changes along the way.

I read your excerpt on Nano - love the names ;) I'm still agog at your production!

Anonymous said...

Hi Natalie:
I'm a completely linear wrter and never write ahead either.

Glad I'm not the only one. And I also do the 100 page and 200 page read-through. :-)


Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Hey, Sue! I'm tickled to see you here!

I don't charge, 'cause I only analyze myself. LOL Saves me therapy bills!

Since you sometimes have the exact words in your head, do you think about writing them down so they don't get lost? Or do you trust that they'll be there when you get to the scene?

Thanks, Mary! I'm hoping an editor will let me keep the names--makes me almost hope she won't be a Supernatural fan. LOL

Erica, knowing you work the same way I do, only a little, makes me feel smart. :)

MJFredrick said...

I know what you mean about hoping people AREN'T Supernatural fans. My next book is going to be so tainted by those brothers!

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I know, and I'm SO excited! I really hope I get to read that book, and in the meantime, it means DEAN all over your blog! Woo hoo! :)

MJFredrick said...