Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Stuckness and too much of a good thing


I echo Lisabet’s tale of woe from yesterday, though probably not to the same degree.

A starter -finisher by nature I like to have one story done and dusted before I start the next and in the past when I was less busy and more solitary, with far fewer invitations to join in box sets, that was easy enough.

There were the occasional hiccups. If an opportunity arose with a deadline, I could grit my teeth and set my current project aside for a month or so, do whatever, then pick up my original project. I wouldn’t say I liked that, exactly, it went against my natural way of working, but I would never forego an opportunity I fancied just for the sake of sticking rigidly to self-made rules and meaningless deadlines.

Nowadays though, what used to be an occasional deviation from the path of righteousness has become the norm. I currently have three unfinished books actively on the go, two of them co-writing projects, as well as another with edits pending. Can’t say I’m, comfortable with that. It bothers me, not least because I lose my thread. Normally, when I’m engrossed in a story I’m thinking about it a lot between writing stints, turning over plot twists, rehearsing dialogue in my head. I think through what might be coming next, then sit down and try to write it.

This is a strategy that flies right out the window when I’m flitting from one story to another, further complicated by working with other authors who are writing alternate chunks. I don’t actually know for sure what comes next, only that I’ll pick up the plot and take it a bit further forward when the ball lands in my court again.

Which brings me to the nub of my post – Planning.

I used to be a pantser, hence the preoccupation with mentally rehearsing the dialogue or experimenting with various plotting scenarios. A story could go in all sorts of ways and as often as not I’d sit down not quite sure what I was going to write but hoping it would flow. Sometimes it did, not always. But without fail I would get stressed over it. It was always daunting, not really knowing what the next chapter or two would contain, where the plot was headed, where the story’s ultimate destination was or when I might reach it. With experience came a marginally less pessimistic attitude – I’ve never (yet) abandoned a book unfinished – but I would wallow in doubt and dwindling self-belief anyway.

With co-writing that’s no use at all. Working with another writer, one with as great a say in the end result as I have, brings with it a serious need to plan, to agree beforehand on the plot in a degree of detail I had never bothered with before. Also, the methodology of it all, whether to use Scrivener, or Word, or Novel Factory. There are Dropboxes to be set up, not to mention agreeing on beta readers, who should edit which bits, and so on. The more of this that is bottomed up front, the less scope for falling out during the course of the writing. And I’d really hate to sour a great relationship with another author I admire and want to work with because of some hitch we didn’t foresee and resolve amicably. So, each co-writing project has a script, chapter headings, with the content specified, POV set out, each allocated to one or the other of us so we both know what we’re doing and what the other is going to do.

So far, fingers crossed, it has worked. No one is lying dead in a ditch or sulking or crying in a corner. We’re still speaking to each other. But it hasn’t ended there, for me. At last, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, I’ve learned how to plan a novel. Not that I’m claiming there’s one perfect way or anything so grandiose as that, but I have a way which works for me.

I’ve tried the same method for my current solo project, and guess what – I have another script. Or should I say, a detailed synopsis printed out and sitting next to my laptop. When I start writing again I just need to pick it up, flick to the bit I got to before and I can straight away see what’s supposed to be coming next.

Of course, with the solo version it’s not so vital to stick rigidly to it if a better notion enters my head in the course of the writing. I can go ‘off piste’ if I choose to, but the basic framework is still there and I can retreat back into it rather than worry about where to go from here, and is ‘here’ the right place to be in any case? All of that, I now recognise, could and sometimes did leave me feeling paralysed by indecision. At last, I feel to be in control and it’s intoxicatingly liberating. I can see how far along in my plan I am and even hazard a guess at how much further I have to go, in terms of time or word count.

Yee hah!

Not that I’m about to get giddy and start planning books way out in advance, but in theory I could. I know some writers do, but that’s really not me. I’ve learned the value of planning my way out of stuckness, but I still think you can have too much of a good thing. The bare minimum needed to get by will have to do.

2 comments:

  1. Your sheer number of works-in-progress is impressive, Ashe. I'm glad you've found a way out of stuckness. (And luckily, that doesn't seem to require rewriting a piece from scratch.)

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  2. This is a really interesting discussion, Ashe. I've scattered myself a lot with multiple works in progress and I'm glad you're keeping your head above water. It's really cool at the same time to hear how it goes with a co-author.

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