Finding your Normal

In total I've written three books. One is in a drawer and will remain there until the end of time. One is out now. One is out in Fall 2012. I'm starting number four now. Not a huge number by an stretch of the imagination, and maybe not enough to have developed some tried and true writing method,  but I'm realizing it's now enough to start making some observations about how I go about writing a book.

I noticed one quirk in particular. At around page 100 I find that all forward momentum stops cold and I'm overcome by this irresistible urge to go back and rewrite everything I've done to that point. My rational mind is usually screaming that this is me wasting time. That I'm nervous about moving forward so I want to fiddle around. During first draft time I should be pushing forward at all cost, just get that draft done and get to the time when I can rewrite the whole thing. Except I can't. My need to go back and rework the beginning is overwhelming, like some sort of migratory thing. Must go south! 

And the thing is, now that this has happened a few times I'm starting to see why it happens. And really it's pretty darn obvious. The first 50-100 pages is where the world of the story is formed. It's where we set up a character's basic traits, their key relationships and concerns. It's the foundation that everything that comes after. I didn't realize it before, but something has been saying to me "The foundation isn't set yet. Go back and fix it before you move on or the whole thing is going to collapse."

What's great about realizing this is the ability to give yourself a bit of a break. The next time I start to get to that 100 page mark I'm going to be able to say "Oh. Here I am again. Time to go back and rewrite." and not stress about it so much. It's kind of comforting too finally start to come up with your own normal.

How about you guys? Any essential writing quirks you've noticed now that you have a good amount of writing under your belts?

7 comments:

Amie Borst said...

i do something very similar! and i always thought it was because i'm afraid to finish it....but i think it's because that internal editor and perfectionist is screaming to make to story just right!

A Backwards Story said...

I'm at that point with my WIP right now, but I think it's only the first couple of chapters that are a crazy mess, and I know if I change them now I'll change them again after finishing, so I'm going to hold off just a little longer... But only because I don't think it will do structural damage...this time...

Eric W. Trant said...

I try not to stifle my writing process with arbitrary rules, such as forge on, or plot, or any of that other stuff.

I write what I believe is interesting to me as a writer, and hope to be interesting to the reader. In my current wip, I hit 38kw and stopped. This was back in Sept, which was my WriMo. I hit a point where I was too deep in the story, decided to take off October, and get back to it in November. I'll probably start back up Monday, after I've re-read what I wrote and done some minor tweaking (if any).

This is my sixth book, I think. I lost count. I don't know how many shorts I've written, and I can tell you not any two stories long or short followed the same process. They're all as different as my three children, and I love them in the way they need to be loved.

I have one sacked in the drawer, too. That one may see the light one day (my first novel). We'll see. It has some good points, but Lord how much editing it would need!

- Eric

Tere Kirkland said...

I think sometimes we need to go back at that point and make sure we're headed in a direction that makes sense to the character and plot building we've done up to that point.

I had some grand ideas when I first started my wip that don't make sense now that I've spent so much time building character. They just wouldn't do that.

So it takes some thought to keep the plot exciting, while staying true to your characters.

This is the point I'm at right now, too. Good luck!

lotusgirl said...

Orson Scott Card swears by the "get the beginning right before you go on" method.

Reid Kemper said...

I believe author Allen Wold had mentioned before that when you stop writing a story and feel the story lost it's appeal, it may mean that you made a mistake earlier in the character building that needs to be fixed -- for example, if the protagonist made a wrong choice out of his/her character. But then again, other authors advise to finish the book, then revise. I guess it depends on the person.

Guilie said...

Right there with you, Jeff. I used to revise everything I'd written before starting to write in the morning for two reasons: to fix/edit, and also to get me back into the storyline, into the voice. Worked for me, because those little cracks that showed up at around p. 100 got fixed and I could move on with a clear conscience. But for NaNo I decided I couldn't do that, so now I'm experimenting with 'just get to the end, fuck what went on before'. It's haaaaaaard, and I foresee lots --lots, lots--of editing for me come December. But it's an interesting experiment. I'm too green to find my 'normal' yet, I guess :)