TRIAL AND ERROR – A WRITER’S PROCESS
I’ve tried a few ways of writing books over the years, and believe me, it’s been a tumultuous cycle of trial and error that’s seen some drafts completed and others (more recent) scrapped halfway through conception. And I’m still trying to find what works best for me.
In hindsight, and with a few projects under my belt, it’s clear that this writing malarky is a delicate and complicated formula that requires varying degrees of foundational work dependent on each author and their chosen genre.
My most straightforward project was a contemporary semi-autobiographical novel; I had a clear premise and plenty of first-hand experience to enrich the story. The book (based on society, mental health and its effect on youths) essentially wrote itself. Besides a few scribbled notes here and there, I didn’t delve extensively into development. It was a breeze. Quite possibly a fluke. I had the first draft written in half a year–you won’t ever hear me do that again.
However, I quickly realised when it came to the next story that planning would be essential. The genre had changed. The mood shifted. The themes were different, broader, and more fictionalised. It would require a lot of thought and imagination.
The dystopian/urban fantasy crossover (think Divergent means The City of Bones) was thick with character-driven action, world-related rules, paranormal evolutions and a futuristic chronicle of gadgets. Each fabrication had to stitch with its partner seamlessly. Each asset needed its counter, every action its reaction. The hunters, monsters, and people of this territory required rules. Not necessarily to obey, but to make their story understandable, valid, genuine.
The planning and outline process took six months—the writing itself, possibly only a few. I wasn’t paying much attention back then, more concerned with having material to purge from my bones and cast into the world. I was naive. Restless. Rushing. While I knew a lot about books, I was quite uninformed about the publishing industry. But this is all material for another post (or video)!
It’s been a good few years since I closed the door on that tale, logging a few revised drafts, but again, I didn’t understand the magnitude of work needed to secure an agent. Not like I do now. And it’s enough to make you pick up your favourite book and wonder how the author ever possibly managed to drag themselves through the hellfire of writing/editing/querying/publishing and survive.
In late 2018 came a new idea inspired by the Netflix hit series, The Haunting of Hill House. I hadn’t fleshed out a plan or honestly considered the premise. This time, unlike the first, however, I did have a list of potential scenes and a turbulent dynamic between the protagonist and her soon-to-be-dead husband, but I grabbed at them like a hungry child and didn’t pause to consider their relevance. The story soon collapsed due to a lack of plot. Sadly it took 80,000 words to realise this. We had just begun the first lockdown, and my mental health had nosedived. The project collected dust until Winter, by which time I’d lost touch with the words and let my creative well run dry. The only way to continue, and write those last 20,000 words, I thought, was to read from the beginning–both an eye-opener and a death sentence.
It wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all. The tone was wrong; the character’s motivations unclear or foolish. This deliciously dark, gritty, immersive, and atmospheric novel I’d seemingly conjured crumbled to ash before me.
And I was hurt. Disheartened. Angry. I tried to fix it and shape it into that grand, glowing abstract idea that had tormented me in the early hours, but the work wasn’t even a passing mimic. It was a shambles. And in early 2021, I decided to shelve it. I’d thrown fuel on the embers by attempting a salvage.
Now, it’s been a year spent contemplating something new. It has roots nestled deep in solid foundations. It’s growing slowly, testing the environment, feeling what conditions nurture it most.
It’s been an entirely new process, turning over the soil of this premise, seeing it outgrow fledgling concepts and form a distinctive shape. I’ve considered much more of every facet than I did with its designed predecessor, and I hope (pray) it’ll be worthwhile.
No more bullheading for me. No more running with under-developed visions. Only scrutiny. I’ll need to be much more disciplined. Let’s see how this works out.
I look forward to sharing the (ongoing) planning process for this one in another post!