learning with practice
I sometimes wonder if the writing process gets easier with practice or easier when we discover our writing niche. I think about this as I am now only three scenes away from completing my first draft of my second novel, some ten months ahead of schedule after only seven months of writing, knowing that I have been able to apply some significant learnings from my first novel writing exercise.
The first draft of the first novel took three and a half years. Alot of factors were at play in contributing to that length of time:
(1) It was my first full length novel after a fiction focus almost exclusively based in short stories and poetry. The very process of learning how to take the time to describe so much more when brevity was ingrained into my psyche was a challenging aspect of the writing process. I doubt many writers have been asked by their editor to write more because there just was not enough description. Wordsmiths can rarely help themselves but get carried away with diatribe on scene setting. I am not one of those writers. With a pre-disposition for metaphorical based description (which I suspect reflects my own reading preferences), I have always liked writing that leaves enough to the reader's imagination to flesh out what is seen and done. My editor told me that I had to assume readers needed all the help they could get as most readers lacked the ability to fill in the blanks. Aside from the fact that I felt this belittled the average reader, I struggled with adjusting my writing style to flesh out the scenery. I still struggle with this but I am getting better with practice.
(2) I chose a very meaty philosophical question as my "what if" question for the story telling. Sure - life's big questions are, and have always been, the subject of many a book, but there were many times as I sat in front of my computer screen where thinking about what the main character might say or do where I stopped to think about how I dealt with the same questions personally. An angst ridden philosophical journey takes time. And I found did not answer many of the questions I set about trying to answer.
(3) Writing part time is a bitch. I have a full time job. As I have mentioned in previous posts, writing for me is one of the ways I process my life experiences and balancing that with actually having some experiences meant that I was constantly juggling three very large balls at once to work, play, and write. I got better with time applying the discipline needed to do all three successfully.
(4) Preparation turned out to be critical to delivering a better writing product. This was an area I definitely learned what needed to be done with practice. My original story board and the end product were very different. With the benefit of hindsight, I did not spend enough time plotting out my story first time around and doing the required research to present a convincing story ahead of putting the words on paper. This made both the original drafting and subsequent editing quite a convuloted task. The key lesson I took out of this was that you need to know where you are heading to know how to get there.
(5) Poor choice of genre. Most of the people who know me understand that I enjoy discussing philosophical questions. This blog is a testament to that. It turns out though that it is not my 'natural' genre when it comes to writing. I should have been guided by the type of short stories I chose to pen before I turned my mind to novel writing - the vast majority of which were well and truely in the world of science fiction and fantasy. While I am not a scientist by profession, I have long been fascinated by patterns along with considering questions about human behaviour in extreme situations. It is not as if the real world is any less interesting - there are some great books about supposedly mundane aspects of life (see for example Carol Shield's The Stone Diaries) - authors that can spotlight the extraordinary things that emerge from everyday life are impressive indeed. But I like to think and write about the stuff of dreams which points to an obvious choice as my writing niche.
So what have I done better second time around? I had a very strong vision about what I wanted the story to say. My preparation and research to build my plots, sub-plots and characters was cleaner and more thorough as a result and done in advance of starting to write the story proper. Without fail, I have spent at least one day a week writing (whether I have felt like it or not). I have allowed the story to evolve with a degree of dynamism to reflect the motivations of the characters as the story has unfolded. (This did involve a reassessment of the storyboard about half way through the drafting as some characters emerged as more significant than I originally envisaged when I started writing.) And I am writing in my natural genre.
These differences have allowed me to write with passion. Only time will tell if it is a better product. Though there is no doubt in my mind that the second novel promises to deliver so much more than the first with a better recipe and ingredients that have been used to create it.