When I decided that I would take my writing seriously – really try and make a go of it – I decided that I would always take risks, that I would never play it safe. For the most part, I’m glad I did that. I probably didn’t realise it at the time, lost in the mists of self-doubt, but I had a strong sense of who I was and where I wanted to sit in the market.
Keeping true to that means I sometimes get wracked with self-doubt. I’m quick to self-efface and sometimes people take it seriously. As a result, I question myself constantly.
I spent an inordinate amount of time in those first years worrying about process. I wasn’t as naïve as to believe there was a ‘magic button’ – in fact insinuations of such I found incredibly patronising – but I felt there were ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ways to write. I’ve since learned that there are only “other people’s” ways to write and the voyage of discovery that is your own.
My first breakthrough was when I realised that writing was supposed to be hard. For years I’d heard writers say “well, it’s not brain surgery” and as a result I thought there was something wrong with me as I groped around in the dark trying to get a sentence to feel, just right, going on gut rather than some logical thought process.
The truth is that writing is hard. Yes, there will be people who say it’s just putting one word in front of another. But then virtually anyone can move a piece on a chess board, that doesn’t mean they can play chess.
Words have the power to send people to their death, to create lifelong unions or create lifelong foes. They can be the source of our greatest comfort or our greatest hurt. They’ve brought down empires and inspired people to do great things.
So to put words together: easy. To put together the right words in the right order: next to impossible.
And it’s that art of putting the right words in the right order that has me playing with process. I’m a thinker. I like to let ideas sit in my head and percolate, often for years. Slowly a novel will grow and I’ll get a sense of character and plot.
The origins of Four Realms goes back at least 13 years, and I went through a process of constant revision (ala Patrick Rothfuss) to bring those early chapters to the level I wanted. If I said early chapters have been rewritten at least fifty times, I would not be telling a lie.
But no author can take 13 years on a book, and whilst a good proportion of that time was spent on improving my craft, I realise that I need to be able to turn around a book in a year. To be fair, the second novel, though languishing in my NaNo challenge has been something I could jump straight into as those 13 years prepared the whole 5 book series. I do not see a book a year as a challenge any more. Indeed, my aim now is to write and edit a book every 6 months so that I always have time to spare.
Refugee was a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo two years ago. I wanted to do a post-apocalyptic story with lots of things people considered “twee” – unicorns, fairies and elves. I’d had the idea for a while but really the story never came together until I sat down the October before NaNoWriMo and plotted the novel into 30 chapters – the idea being one a day. That worked pretty well and I think Refugee has something, it’s a proper solid first draft, even if at the moment I feel something tonally is missing. I plan to revise it after NaNo and see what I can do.
Gods of the New Frontier is again a different process. The idea isn’t completely finalised, in so much I wouldn’t normally feel comfortable trying to write the book at this stage. I like to understand a novel in my head before I write, but Gods still has no end. Again, it’s taking a risk, playing with process, trying different things and seeing what the result is.
I suspect that Gods is going to need a lot of rewriting and editing. Tonally, it’s all over the place at the moment, but that sort of comes with the process. I’m happy to just go with it and see what comes out.
I think it’s important to play with process and try new things. Always take risks. What risks are you taking with your NaNo novel?