Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Guest Post: The Writing Process #2 - Adam Christopher
You can find the first one here: Guest Post: The Writing Process - Adam Christopher
For more information about Adam visit his homepage http://www.adamchristopher.co.uk/. You can also find Adam on Twitter as @ghostfinder.
Finally, don't miss the excerpt from his first Novel, Empire State, over at Tor.com.
Over to Adam...
The phases of draft 0
Writing draft 0 is an interesting process, and one that has a number of phases.
Phase 1 is the excitement of a new story – limitless potential, a fresh idea, new characters. This is going to be it. This is going to be the best novel ever written. And I think that you really do have to think that, at least at some point. If this novel isn’t going to be kick-ass, why the hell are you writing it? I’m not suggesting that self-delusion is a good idea, but I do think that you absolutely must write what excites you. You need to write the book that is just dying to be written. It’s the story you must tell or you’ll explode, which sounds both painful and messy.
Phase 2 sets in pretty quickly, maybe around 10,000 words. Phase 2 is the “what the hell is this?” phase. Can the idea sustain a story of this length? What do the characters actually want and need? And what is this book about, really, truly, honestly? Because my initial outline is a little organic, this is a settling in period, and it’s during this phase that I’ll figure out how much of that outline/event list is really going to make it into the book. Phase 2 is the discovery phase, and I’ll often become convinced my 120,000 word novel really needs to be 200,000 words. There’s no way it can all fit in, because so far my characters are mostly sitting around having meetings. Seems they’re trying to work out what the story is about too.
Phase 3 is the probably the best bit – the story is locked in, the characters have come to life, and it’s fun to write. On a good day the words come easy, and you’re eager to get back to it when you stop typing. Phase 3, unfortunately, doesn’t last long, maybe from the first third to the end of the first half of the manuscript. This is the first section where the word count really starts to collect.
If Phase 4 isn’t the killer, then it’s pretty close. This is the “OMG this sucks” phase. The idea is terrible. The story is terrible. Worst of all, the writing is terrible. It’s very easy to convince yourself that you’re the worst writer in the history of the English language. Your book is awful. I suspect this is where a lot of would-be novelists pack in it. Nothing seems to be working, and there’s always a better idea waiting to be written. Every sentence is pure agony to write and torture to read back.
But, there are two important points to remember here – firstly, this is draft 0, and draft 0 is allowed to suck. Draft 0 will be terrible. It’s allowed to be. This is the vomit draft. You’ll fix it later. That’s what editing is for and that’s why this is draft 0.
Secondly, I think all writers have this feeling – I’d even go so far as to suggest that there might be something awry if they didn’t. Neil Gaiman wrote about his anxiety for a NaNoWriMo pep talk one year – when he called his agent to outline his fears, he was promptly told that he always feels this way at this stage of the draft, and he should get back to work.
See, us writers are an anxious lot. Not only do we crave validation, but we’re convinced that when something is going well we’re either deluded, or someone will discover we’re frauds. We get paid to make stuff up. Surely, we say, that can’t last? They’ll find out that I just made all this stuff up…
The biggest problem with Phase 4 for me is that it usually takes ages to recognize, so deep is my lament. But once I do, things run pretty much okay – the doubts may continue to linger, but I keep on trucking and keep on typing. But I know what’s coming next. Right around the corner is the granddaddy of them all.
Let’s call this Phase 5, and let’s be perfectly clear: Phase 5 is the One. Phase 5 is the Enemy, well-deserving of the capital initial. Phase 5 is nasty, insidious, treacherous.
Phase 5 is the next book.
The next book plays dirty. The next book sneaks up behind you, whispers in your ear. Hey, says the next book, don’t write that, write me. Man, I’m the best idea ever. You thought this idea was good? No way. This idea is the best thing you’ve ever thought of. This idea is a game changer. This idea is It.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with Phase 5, to beat it at its own game. This is the time I start to write it all down, taking notes, making plans, starting that outline/event list when I’m not actually working on the current draft. Because the chances are that this is the next book I’ll write, which takes me right back to the beginning, with that great idea. The important bit is not to stop the current project and switch to the new one. You can write one and plan the next, no problem. Just keep writing. The best writing rule there ever is another from Neil Gaiman – finish what you start.
The end is the beginning
Because I don’t edit as I write, by the end of draft 0 I have a manuscript which is probably 90% complete, and will certainly have some dodgy bits in it. Editing for me is as important as writing, and is really where the novel takes shape. If it takes 2-3 months to write the first draft, then it’s about the same to edit the manuscript into the true first draft (and that’s after a gap of 2-3 months while I’ve been working on something else). Editing requires a different mindset to writing, and while I don’t track any kind of word count during editing (counting manuscript pages is easier here), I’m probably still writing about 2,000 words a day, mostly likely a mix of edits and rewrites.
Editing has phases of its own, but they’re more practical divisions that the amorphic weirdness that happens when writing the initial draft. I do a technical/copy edit pass, correcting grammar, spelling and bad writing, during which I’ll also make notes on any obvious problems. Then I’ll go back and fix the major problems, then make another technical pass, and so on. These steps are repeated ad infinitum until the manuscript is in a fit state to be sent to my beta-readers.
Editing requires a heck of a lot of reading – there’s the first read through of the entire book from beginning to end, followed by the edits… but then I’ll often read and re-read the whole thing again and again, maybe 4-5 times from beginning to end, depending on the level of edits and corrections, because sometimes to see the true implications of a major edit you need to see it in context.
I use a group of beta-readers who I trust to give me completely honest feedback, not only for all the bad bits of the book, but also all the good bits. I want to know about the bad bits so I can work out how to fix them, but I also want to know about the good bits so I can work out what makes them good.
My beta-reading team is a large group that I tend to rotate around manuscripts to avoid fatigue. They’re writers, editors, reviewers, and people with a particular interest or speciality knowledge that I want to check things over. I give my betas a month to read and return comments.
The final edit
When the beta comments are all in and compiled, it’s time for the final edit. Not everything that the betas mark up may require attention – if one beta out of six comments on something, the chances are that it’s probably okay to let it pass if I disagree with the comment, but if all six say the same thing about the same point, then clearly something is wrong. Or maybe that one beta reader spotted a key error that the others missed. Or perhaps none of them understood a section because an earlier piece of set-up was flubbed. Analysing beta reader comments and reactions is vital. I would never let anything out that hadn’t had four to five sets of eyes on it.
The beta edit takes another month, after which the manuscript is ready for submission. That’s not the end, of course, but what happens next depends on a lot of things – the manuscript might go to my agent, which will then result in more comments and edits, or it might go to a publisher, which will likewise result in more comments and edits. The path to the finished novel that sits on the shelf in your local store is lengthy.
Adding it up
The above is just how I work. Some writers will see similarities in their own process. Some writers will consider the above description to be completely alien. But it doesn’t matter. So far, this has worked for me. Overall, from development of an initial idea to the completion of the submission draft, it takes 9-12 months to complete one novel. But because I stagger my projects, starting the next one while the previous complete draft matures on my hard drive, in general I tend to complete three draft 0 novels a year.
But ask me again in a couple of years, and my method might be completely different!
Thank you Adam for sharing your writing process with us.