Five things I learned while writing the first draft of Saturnius Mons.
To be fair, as I write this, the first draft isn’t done yet. I have four chapters left to beat in submission, but screw it, I wanted to write about it anyway. It seems current now whereas next month, with any luck, I’ll be either working on the outline to the next book in this series, or taking a much needed break from word-smithing to let my neurons calm down and start talking to each other again.
So here it is, a little premature, but a few things I learned about myself and my process during this phase of the project. Hopefully there is something useful in these inane scribbling that you might apply to your own writing, or at least illicits a giggle or two.
Yes, outlining is a great roadmap:
I’m ashamed to say that this was the first project that I took the time to fully outline. From beginning to end, every chapter, every scene, everything I could conceivably plan out, was written down organized and it drove me flippin nuts. Most of the time, it felt like I turned navel gazing into an extreme sport. No words were being written… well no words that any other human was going to see at any rate. Plus it was just going to change anyway when I started writing, so why bother? Months flipped by on the calendar. Months that could have been spent actually putting words on paper.
But I kept at it and I am so glad I did. The outline took three months, but it probably saved me six months of frustrating re-writes, dead ends, writing in circles, rampant alcoholism and yelling at invisible enemies… etc. I used my outline every step of the first draft and it proved to be an invaluable tool to remind myself where the bloody hell I was taking this ride.
…but you’re still a maniac who’s going to weave down side-streets to see the worlds biggest ball of paint:
A younger, stupider me worried that an outline would restrict my creativity. It didn’t. Not at all. Nope. Nothing. Every once in a while I came to a new scene, looked at my outline and said, “Nope, I don’t like that idea. Screw you, Past Jeremy. I don’t have to listen to you. YOU’RE NOT MY DADDY!” and hilarity ensued. There’s no controlling that, there’s no planning for it and that’s a good thing. I kept the creative process spontaneous and free. The only difference was the aforementioned roadmap. I could get back on the highway and away from the gentle plucking of banjo strings…
Characters that evolve from…. bobble-heads?:
For reasons that completely escape my brain in the zero draft of this story my characters were constantly shaking or nodding their heads. Like every other sentence. I’m not kidding, it was weird. My best guess right now is that it was my brain’s place holder for all non-verbal communication.
Nodding their head means they are generally happy with the situation, big smiley face!
Shaking means they don’t like this situation, grrr frowny face!
Recognizing that and forcing myself to thing, really, really think about what the character wants or do led to more pithy dialog, I feel. Huge swaths of useless back-and-forth were cut down in the first rewrite and I think the whole story feels leaner for the loss of it. I’d like to thing (although I have no proof) that it created more three-dimensional characters, but I suppose that opinion is not up to me. Not yet anyway.
If something doesn’t feel right… it probably isn’t:
When I first started this draft, I had a couple of chapters where the characters hike into a mountain range of cryovolcanos in search of the missing civilization. Even while I was writing it, something about it felt off. The characters felt awkward, the action didn’t flow, every sentence was like yanking on my toenails. When I went back to really look at that section I realized that I pulled my characters away from the story instead of deeper into it. I wiped the slate clean and started a new outline for that section. The new outline begat a new middle to the book, a middle that keeps the plot moving forward. A middle that seems to fit the rest of the book.
As always, the first draft always, always sucks… always:
This is a lesson that I keep learning time and time again. I don’t know why I have such a hard time making myself believe it. Or, more importantly, making myself believe that it’s okay. Yes, it sucks now. It’s suppose to suck now. It is going to get better. The first draft was better then the words I threw down on paper to begin with. And when I come back to this in a few months for the big second draft, it will get even better. If (or when) I decide it needs a third draft, that will make it even better and so on and so forth. It’s a process. A long, painful, frustrating process. In the great race of novel writing, I’m still at the starting line listening to the echo of the starters pistol. Six months into this project… nine counting the months I spent working on the characters and the outline, and I’ve still just begun. On one hand, it’s disheartening. On the other… well motivating isn’t the right word. More like obligated. For better or worse, I brought this screaming, howling word-baby into the world. A lot of work has gone into it already, so I might as well take it as far as needed and hope to the gods that the little bastard doesn’t end up living in my basement until he’s 40.