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[process] It gets easier, it gets harder - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-11-10 05:55
Subject: [process] It gets easier, it gets harder
Security: Public
Tags:books, green, kalmpura, mainspring, process, rocket science, stories, trial, writing
As most of you reading this know, I have been working on Kalimpura lately. 21,900 words of first draft in the last three days, thanks to a bunch of time hanging around on airplanes. So far the prose is flowing well and the story is holding together nicely. Fred has introduced several interesting elements that were not in the outline, but generally, I am hewing to plan.

I have several process observations that arise from this experience.
  1. Outlines have become more important to me. I wrote Rocket Science without any outline at all. I wrote Trial of Flowers from a five paragraph outline. Mainspring had an outline about twelve pages long. And so forth. Kalimpura's outline from which I am working right now is close to thirty pages. (And to note for future use, Sunspin's outline, which is nowhere near finished, is about seventy pages.)

    I used to hate outlining because it seemed to take all the fun out of writing. For me, writing has always been about the joy of discovery. It's like a specialized form of reading, except I'm channeling the story through my fingers instead of my eyes on a page. In the time that I've matured (or at least developed) as a writer, the outline has gone from a hated, mythical beast, to a necessary chore, to an invaluable tool.

    Really, who knew? Besides everyone else, I mean.

  2. This is the second time I've written a third book in series. (Pinion being the other, of course.) As I believe I observed while writing Pinion, it's a rather different experience that writing a standalone or initial book. So much of the worldbuilding, characterization and discovery is in place. I have to touch on bits of it so a reader who's starting with this book won't be lost, but I have it internalized. That means that writing this book is a different experience for me. I am far more focused on plot and inter-character dynamics because that other stuff is already in place and not crying for attention. And much as I had this experience with Pinion, I think it's likely to make a somewhat different kind of book.

    Now if I could only figure out how to deliberately leverage this phenomenon in future projects.

  3. My process evolves as well. This is profoundly unsurprising, of course, as a matter of principle, but still jolts me a bit when I encounter it. For example, one of my very firm guidelines for years has been not to revise while I'm drafting. I have seen many writers come to grief on the need to perfect a sentence/paragraph/scene before they can move on to the next, and thus never get to the other end of the project. My view has always been that it's much easier to revise something already finished at least once on the page than it is to revise something still in your head. And frankly, if you want to be a commercially successful writer, I think this is probably close to essential.

    Obviously at my production rates on this draft I have not gone into a revision spin cycle. But almost every day when I sit down to write, I find myself going into the previous day's work for changes and clarifications, and in at least one case so far, major redirection.

    Other things are changing, too. It's fascinating to observe.

  4. Per the above items, some things have become easier with time, others have become harder. My facility for laying down sentences is quite well-tuned. The act of writing, as it were, has developed into something nearly autonomous. Unless I choose to focus on line level style issues (as sometimes I do), I can rely on my skills there without having to consciously monitor them and adjust course.

    On the other hand, my sense of point-of-view continues to ramify and develop. The more I learn about that subject, the less I understand it. This makes me question basic techniques in my writing, as well as try new ones in an attempt to address that unease. For whatever it's worth, my two most complex pieces ever for point-of-view purposes are "America, Such as She Is", and The Baby Killers. I couldn't even begin to describe to you in any real detail what I did in those two novellas. In the case of Kalimpura, point-of-view choices I made in Green provide me with some very tight constraints that I need to continue to respect. Still, there are ways to work within and around those constraints to do things I didn't used to be able to do as a writer.

    That sense of having at least occasional access to a capability that remains mysterious to me is both challenging and fascinating. At least in part, this sense of always having a new learning curve to climb as a writer is part of why it keeps working for me. My sense of discovery has broadened.

Just some rambles, but it's been so long since my life has been calm enough for me to reflect on and talk about process that I'm damned pleased to be able to make them.

What have you learned about your own writing lately?

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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-11-10 14:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That my numbers aren't great.... :-(
Which is, of course, a new demon to dance on my shoulder.
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barry_king: Me
User: barry_king
Date: 2010-11-10 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Me
But almost every day when I sit down to write, I find myself going into the previous day's work for changes and clarifications, and in at least one case so far, major redirection.

This has always been an essential step for me. It's hard enough for me to get entirely into the scene, and if I have to pick it up cold, it's crazy-bad. Going over yesterday's writing, tweaking a nuance here or there helps tune into the story and get all the little sub-themes and language constructs working together again. Hit the ground running, I say.
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Twilight: WriterRose
User: twilight2000
Date: 2010-11-10 14:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:WriterRose
That i still have oodles to learn - and that's grand! Funny - i don't revise as I write (mainly due to a whole bunch of you published writer types telling me that's the Kiss Of Death!).

But when I start each day, I go back and read a bit from the day before (a chapter, a scene - something discreet) and always do a little revising on that bit as I go (like barry_king does). It helps me get into the story again.
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The Ferrett
User: theferrett
Date: 2010-11-10 15:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay,

I know you're pressed for time these days, but do you have a procedure for HOW you outline your novels? I'm just starting one, sans outline, but I'd be curious to know how you've done it so that it becomes "an invaluable tool."

Go you on writing, though. Glad to see you forging ahead.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
As you and several other folks have suggested, I will draft a post about outlining. Just not sure when yet...
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Elizabeth Coleman
User: criada
Date: 2010-11-10 15:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
And I'm the opposite. I used to outline obsessively, only to have my novels feel hard and lifeless to my readers. I'm doing my current novel organically. It's slow, and freaks me out, but seems to be working. However, I don't get the joy of discovery some organic writers have. It's more like Nancy Kress has said-- like driving in the dark with headlights that only illuminate a little ways. I'm trying to be relaxed, though, not white-knuckled.
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russ: masereel
User: goulo
Date: 2010-11-10 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:masereel
That it's interesting and fun getting back into it lately (via the trick of nanowrimo) after too long not doing it, when I can get into the flow, and the characters and situations start to seem real and surprise me.
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Chris McKitterick: smiling Chris 2010
User: mckitterick
Date: 2010-11-10 16:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smiling Chris 2010
Last Friday, I learned that a book release is, in Robin Wayne Bailey's words, "Better than sex*." But there's also this post-partum let-down afterward. You'd think I would have expected that, but no, it came as a surprise to me that I don't even want to look at the cover (as lovely as it is).

PS: I don't often comment on your daily links and photos of the day, but they're often the highlights of my daily blog-reading!

*In some ways, because the high lasts longer and more people are involved. In other ways, well....
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 16:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
*In some ways, because the high lasts longer and more people are involved. In other ways, well....

Depends on what and how you're doing it, now, doesn't it? :p
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Chris McKitterick: hands
User: mckitterick
Date: 2010-11-10 16:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:hands
Ha! There is that! And it would depend on your definition of "sex," too :D
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 16:51 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Strangely, as I'm sure you well know, that is a non-trivial question.

I used to define 'sex' as anything intimate I'd do with a partner in privacy that I wouldn't do with a partner in company, but even that definition has long since grown tattered...
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Chris McKitterick: monkey love
User: mckitterick
Date: 2010-11-10 17:10 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:monkey love
Sure, and now you have me thinking... what is sex, really? I'm leaning in the direction of simply "intimate behavior, performed in a way that stimulates the mind and body." Hm....
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Michelle
User: msagara
Date: 2010-11-10 16:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Just some rambles, but it's been so long since my life has been calm enough for me to reflect on and talk about process that I'm damned pleased to be able to make them.

What have you learned about your own writing lately?


a) Happy, here, to be able to read them. I've always liked your process posts.

b) the most significant thing I've learned lately, where lately is in the last couple of years, is that I can work on two projects at the same time. When I was younger, I couldn't; the books or the tone would completely blur, one overwhelming the other.

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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 16:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
where lately is in the last couple of years, is that I can work on two projects at the same time.

I still can only do that if the projects are substantially different formats. Ie, novel and short story, or nonfiction and fiction. It would seem to be a useful skill you've acquired...
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Michelle
User: msagara
Date: 2010-11-10 16:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
If it helps at all, I still can't outline to save my life. I did it once, and while I did finish the book, I considered it almost crippling to the book in question.

But as for working on two novels at the same time, I think it helps that the books have distinct tone or voice (to me; some readers see the similarities, some were shocked that I was the same author of both). As I've gotten older, my sense of, or perhaps trust in, tone keeps the books anchored in separate bays, so to speak.

I couldn't work on two books that had a similar tone or voice, though.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 20:45 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
That last would be the kiss of death for me, yes...
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User: cocoajava
Date: 2010-11-10 17:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Vintage Girl Pirate
The book I'm writing is coming out of a mental outline. I rolled the storyline around in my head for well over a year before I decided 'demmit, just write it'.

I think I will be all right with this book since I know every nuance of where I'm going, but I want to keep writing beyond this project. I can't depend on the luxury of steeping a story in the teapot of my brain for a year before writing again! So I too would love to hear you talk a little more about how you lay down an outline.
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silvertwi
User: silvertwi
Date: 2010-11-10 18:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This is the second NaNo in a row in which I flailed around for 5-10k words and then wanted to start over now that I had some idea of where I'm going. Those seem to be my time to get to know characters and what I need to think more about before proceeding.

Except, y'know, trying to do 50k in 20 days at this point would play hell with pain levels in my arms, in addition to making it difficult to complete the massive amounts of schoolwork I have to do before the end of the month. Evidently 5 classes is a significant difference from the 4 I had last year. Add in NaNo and couple of extra-curricular activities, and I've lost the wish to add any more "must do" things to my time.

I think what I need to do is create the habit of writing every day just as I'm creating movement habits in dance classes. This will make it more instinctive to craft as I write rather than after the fact--my sentences are really bad right now, and the way I approach scenes is not thought-out in any way that helps me get through the process of plotting.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 20:46 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Agreed completely on the 'habit of writing' - that's critical, so far as I can tell. It doesn't literally have to be every day, but strong consistency seems to help, a lot.
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2010-11-10 19:33 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Like you, I'm starting to get the feeling outlines aren't so evil. Certainly they make short stories easier for me.

I'm at the very end of a new novel, and this one is interesting in that I wrote it almost entirely in order. Previously I skipped around willy-nilly, more accreting a novel than writing it. I would write scenes without knowing when or where they happen, and then assemble the thing like a jigsaw puzzle and rewrite entirely to make it all smooth.

This one went in order, except for a 3000-word chunk near the end, which I wrote while visiting a friend and had only paper-and-pen and no notes to remind me where the heck I was in the main draft.

It was good to learn that I could write in order. The "outline" for this book was in my head, but it was pretty firm. I knew key events that had to happen and in what order. I wrote from one to the next. The revision will require heavy timelining to make the spaces between events work out, but it was very good to have this work so well, as I intend this approach with future books.

---------

my sense of point-of-view continues to ramify and develop. The more I learn about that subject, the less I understand it. This makes me question basic techniques in my writing, as well as try new ones in an attempt to address that unease

-->I find that in writing (and other things, but writing is the only constant over 30+ years), I get most frustrated or worried right before I make a quantum leap in skill. You sound like you're on the verge of a breakthrough w/r/t POV.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2010-11-10 20:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I have never been able to write out of reading order. Even with non-linear plots, I have to write that way.

And yes, maybe a breakthrough coming. Or maybe I'm just an idiot... ;p
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barbarienne
User: barbarienne
Date: 2010-11-10 21:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I didn't have a plot, only characters with motives and wants. So I would have them interact in scenes and see what happened.

Mind, this was a habit I got into when I was 10 or 12. I suspect it was a natural extension of "playing with dolls"* in the sense of creating little scenarios and letting my actors improvise. (Yeah, I'm also of the "the characters do stuff without my direction" mindset. I wonder how much of that is the result of how old a writer was when they started writing.)

Putting random scenes into some sort of narrative order was like a fun puzzle! I had scenes that moved around several times. One benefit of going out of order when learning to write was that I learned early that some scenes just don't belong, and that's okay. I have no problem murdering my darlings thousands of words at a time. I save them and recycle them later.


*or, in my case, stuffed animals, since I didn't like hard plastic people
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-11-10 23:35 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've learned these things:

1) Analyzing my own writing process doesn't take the joy out of it, as I'd feared; it makes me feel more accomplished when I can see the progress I've made in a weak area (plot, strong characterization, visual details).

2) Unlike most writers -- even unlike how I used to be 20 years ago -- my trying to write on a consistent schedule is Death to my Muse. I hope this will someday change (back), but for now, I can write only when I'm really moved to. Otherwise, I'll paralyze my ability to write later. This one kind of sucks, but I've come to accept it.

3) The occasional private, self-indulgent project (like smut) can increase the odds that I'll develop the urge to write something more serious. Plus, it's fun, and reminds me of the joy writing used to be, before I realized how hard it was to do it well.
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Sherwood Smith
User: sartorias
Date: 2010-11-11 14:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Trying to learn more about what I think of as trapdoors, the tiny scenes of emotional insight.
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Danny Adams
User: madwriter
Date: 2010-11-11 20:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In my own case I've found that as long as I don't let the pre-writing process take over the actual book writing, the more I write, the more story ideas I have. Granted I don't often do outlines, but I do write page after page of story notes, and a single page can often generate enough ideas for anything from a scene to a host of chapters.
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Bryan Thomas Schmidt
User: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Date: 2010-11-11 23:19 (UTC)
Subject: What I learned
I've learned that burnout can happen in genre for me. I had been reading nothing but SF and F since August 2009. In that time, I have written 30 short stories, one serial, and two novels, one of which has undergone eight drafts. I sat down for NaNoWriMo, though, and had this novella idea I'd developed and even partially outline. I coudn't write more than 650 words a day. Third day, I switched to an old love story I tried and did a miserable job writing as my first novel. I started from scratch using characters, a few snippets of key dialogue and a few scene ideas. Wrote 3500 words the first day. And I am off and running. Never realized how much I needed to get a break. I was so focused on reading all the stuff I was behind on reading to catch up on the genres I love as I write that I just totally fried my mind. Feeling so much fresher now day to day.

Great post. Thanks for sharing.
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Keikaimalu
User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-11-12 01:11 (UTC)
Subject: Re: What I learned
I think burnout is a real danger. Coming back from it can be hard, unless you can find the sweet spot where your creative energy still sparks.
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pingback_bot
User: pingback_bot
Date: 2011-01-02 21:43 (UTC)
Subject: Novel stuff and Scrivener
User mcjulie referenced to your post from Novel stuff and Scrivener saying: [...] g. My current outlining process isn't really outlining, or even synopsis-ing (see this Jay Lake [...]
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