Thursday, August 02, 2007

Starting Over

I've been taking a good, hard look at my creative process lately because I feel like my career is in a bit of a transition state. I'll be starting over with something outside the series that I've been working on almost exclusively for four years (I was doing the initial research and outlining at about this time in 2003) and very likely with a new editor at a new publisher, classified in a new genre. It's the first time I've had to create a totally new proposal in four years, and I've realized that I don't write very good book proposals. That seems to have something to do with my creative process.

There are two very broad ways that writers tend to work. On the one extreme there are the ones considered "pantsers," those who write by the seat of their pants. They start with a general idea of a story, maybe a character they want to explore or an initiating incident, then they just sit down and write as it comes to them. They may not have an idea of what the book's really about until the first draft is written, and then they mold the book into what it's really supposed to be in revisions. Revisions may be extensive, as they have to add, cut or move entire scenes and do a lot of rewriting. The thought of writing this way makes me break out in hives.

Then there are the "plotters," the ones who need to know everything before they start writing. They do character sketches and often entire character charts with all the backstory on the characters. They plan out the growth arc for each character. They plot the book, planning out the major turning points, and they don't even think about starting to write until they know the ending. I know some writers who storyboard the entire book, with a Post-it note for each chapter laid out on a posterboard. The thought of writing this way also makes me break out in hives.

I'm somewhere down the middle, in what seems to be the worst of both worlds. Like a plotter, I have to figure out the characters, know their arcs, know all the major turning points and the ending before I can start writing. That means it can take me weeks to be ready to write the first word. But beyond knowing those major turning points, I have no idea what will happen or even how it will happen. It all comes to me as I write, and I often discover even more stuff along the way. I usually don't even know what the book is really about or what's actually going on until I've written a first draft. My second draft is usually a complete rewrite. Chapter two and chapter five usually vanish, subplots come and go and entire emotional arcs generally change. For instance, in Damsel Under Stress, that entire subplot about Philip and the evil banker lady appeared in the second draft.

So, I have all the extensive pre-writing work of a plotter and the extensive re-writing work of a pantser, and it seems to get worse with each book. I used to be an all-out plotter. Enchanted, Inc. barely changed from synopsis to finished book, though some of that could be because I'd been playing with the idea in my head for more than a year before I wrote it. Each subsequent book has shaped up more and more organically as I wrote it, and I think that leads to better, richer books because my subconscious is getting to do more. However, that makes it harder to write a proposal for a book that really captures what the book is going to be like. The first three chapters of a first draft are where I tend to feel my way and meander a lot, so most of that gets cut once I figure out the book, but I don't know at the three-chapter mark what will need to be cut.

I think I'm also in a bit of a rut because I found a method that seemed to work for me and have been clinging to it, but I think it's good to shake things up every so often. So, for the two proposals I need to write this month, I'm trying something new. In the romance writing world, people often talk about "Book in a Week" (BIAW), where you do an intense writing phase and see how much of a rough draft you can pound out in one week -- up to a very rough draft of an entire book that then needs to be edited a lot. The idea is to turn off your internal editor/critic/perfectionist and just write, letting the subconscious play. I'm going to try something like that, but not trying to get an entire book done, just maybe the first 100-150 pages, depending on the targeted finished length of the book. That should give me a better sense of where the book is going and how the major things will happen, as well as giving me more material to work with to create a polished first three chapters and an idea of what meandering at the beginning will be cut. Yes, that's more work done for a book that may or may not sell, but doing that work I think will increase the chances it will sell.

I'll keep everyone posted as to how well this works for me. If I stay sane, that is.

In other news, Damsel Under Stress will be published in German in 2008 or 2009. Yay!.

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