As you might have noticed, I’ve been racking up the word count lately. This is unusual, because normally my output is about 200-300 words per day. Part of it is a self-imposed deadline, but part is a sort of frenetic energy that I’m expressing in words. When I wrote Gordath Wood, there were times when eking out 20 to 30 words was impossibly hard, but there were also stretches of 1,000 even up to 5,000 word days.

If there is a downside to writing fast and hard it’s that the wordage is a lot less polished and so editing takes longer. I can tell that this is going to be a rough draft all right. But the key here is that I have time. I don’t need to hurry on the editing. I don’t intend to turn this manuscript in to my agent until I am fully satisfied with it.

This was a tough lesson to learn; I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say I will never turn around a manuscript faster than I’m comfortable with again.

The upside to writing fast is the energy feeds on itself. When the words flow that easily and you give yourself permission not to edit as you go, there’s a sort of hysteria that becomes very addictive. I call it writing with my eyes closed. I just lock away the internal editor who wants to second-guess every word and every plot turn, and just let it flow. The exciting part is to see what gems come tumbling out of the utter verbiage. This must be what NaNoWriMo is about (I’ve never done it since I find the whole thing gimmicky, but I hear it works for people and if it works for you, hey don’t knock it).

The key is to not inflict this untamed outflow on anyone else until it’s edited properly.

I like editing. Once the story or novel is finished, polishing it brings its own set of frustrations and joys. I get into a kind of zen mode with editing, different from the joy of setting down the words and seeing where the story takes me. With editing I’m in control.

I’m enjoying writing the current project, seeing where it’s going and going along for the ride. When it’s time to switch gears, I’ll be ready for that too.


7 Comments

Bethe B. · May 1, 2009 at 12:00 pm

I think you’ve hit on one of my key dilemmas here. I do occasionally have periods when I can devote more time to writing (like during the summer when there are not as many child-related activities.) At that time, I can try to get the word count up on the current project. The quandry comes when I add my critique group into the picture. I don’t want to get too far ahead of what I’ve shown them, since they are very good at letting me know when I’ve gone off on some strange side path and the plot doesn’t seem to be moving in the right direction anymore or have some major inconsistency which will cause me to rethink where I wanted to go next. It can be depressing to get 20,000 words out there only to find out that I should have followed a completely track after the first 5,000.

Bethe B. · May 1, 2009 at 12:11 pm

Okay – accidently hit enter when the focus had jumped to submit there before I was done with my thought.

Anyway – as you pointed out, this turbo writing method does lead to very rough stuff. In my own case I know that I put in a ton more back story when I am writing quickly. There are lots of details that come to me that I put down when the ideas are flowing freely that I know won’t end up in the final product. I don’t want to gibe this really rough draft to my critique group, so that means I need to get out of writing mode and start to edit what I’ve written. It’s that much harder then to get back into the free-flowing writing mode. But if I don’t stop to edit, I won’t send anything to me critique group. That could mean going in the completely wrong direction plot wise or having some huge hole or inconsistentcy that may or may not be able to be fixed.

Any suggestions?

Patrice Sarath · May 1, 2009 at 4:52 pm

I wonder if sending pieces of an unfinished draft to your critique group is the best way to go about it. What if you finished the draft completely, start to finish, and then starting submitting chunks to the group?

I’ve done it both ways, and I think critiquing a finished draft works way better. After all, how does your group know when something is a dead end? It could be a plot twist that you just haven’t figured out yet.

You have to trust your own vision of your novel. Feedback is crucial, but it sounds like your group has a say in the writing process and maybe that’s too much input.

Bethe B. · May 3, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Thanks. That’s what I needed to hear. Thinking about it a little more, I realize that I do tend to keep going on a path, even if the group is uncertain about it. As a matter of fact, we joke about the fact that we sometimes know the flaws of our pieces going in, and exactly which person is going to nail us for each one of them. (“Yes – you know this is wrong, and yes – you do need to fix it.”) We keep each other from taking the lazy way out, when just a little bit of work could make something 100% better.

It really comes back to that guilt thing again. (One of those side-effects of being Catholic since birth.) I just don’t feel like I’m living up to my responsibilities if I’m critiquing everyone else’s work month after month without offering up anything of my own. However, I now intend to get over that.

Patrice Sarath · May 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

Groups are invaluable for telling us what we already know and making us listen.

You bring up a good point about writer group dynamics. I’m not Catholic, but I know all about that guilt. There’s a balance when each member of the group brings something to be critiqued. But if one person is always critiquing and never bringing work in, the power shifts to that person’s hands. Right? They are never vulnerable. And there’s a selfishness if one person brings something in week after week but skimps on offering up feedback.

But bringing work in shouldn’t be about placating the group, especially if it’s to the detriment of your own development…hmmm. I’m seeing a bit of this in my own group. Have to think more on this.

Fred Stanton · May 4, 2009 at 3:11 pm

In my opinion, sending an unfinished draft to a critique group is okay as long as a fairly detailed outline exists. By fairly detailed I mean an outline that is the novel condensed to short-story (six to nine thousand words) length. The idea is that the complete story should exist in some form. I prefer the outline because its brevity means that there are still surprises to be had in the writing to come.

I also agree that bringing in work should not be about placating the group. Use the cook-voice on those who would pressure you to produce: “Get out of the kitchen! It’ll be ready when it’s ready!” For me, a chapter is ready to show a group not with the rough draft I create from my outline, but only after I’ve read that rough chapter aloud to myself, searched for overused words, and checked the spelling. Only then do I consider it the first human-readable draft.

Patrice Sarath · May 4, 2009 at 6:53 pm

That works for outliners but I can’t outline worth a damn. But it’s a good point. If the author knows where things are going, then he/she is less apt to be steered wrong by the group dynamic.

Okay, gotta go. We’re roasting peppers for a salsa verde for tomorrow’s Cinco de Mayo salsa competition at work, which I intend to win, thank you very much.

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