As some of you are aware, I’ve been writing my latest book using a discovery process. This is where you go into the project not knowing a whole lot about it, and find the plot and story as you write. I normally like to think on a book, let it ferment in my head for as much as a decade before coming out as something pretty much approaching a finished novel, where every character is known, pretty much every scene is visualised. However, whilst I have no end of ideas (I think I’m up to 19 books now), there’s no way I can spend a decade on each. If I want to be a commercial writer, I need to speed that process up and I genuinely believe that not only can I do that but feel if I get my process right, I reckon I could possibly get two books out a year (although there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to speed up and fine tune the editing process). And so I’ve been using the time Four Realms is sitting in piles waiting for people to say ‘yes’ (or ‘no’), to play around a bit, try different approaches to writing.

I’m at around 50,000 words on Gods which means I should be entering mid-book territory. It’s around now that earlier strands would start being pulled together, moving the story towards an end. It’s also an infamous milestone in the creation of a book as a lot of authors tend to get to this stage, throw up their hands and proclaim they don’t know what they are doing.
I don’t know what I’m doing. *throws up hands*
There’s part of me that loves the concept of discovery. I go into writing without any demands. There are no scenes I have to work towards, no herding of characters towards certain events (a job that any writer will tell you is as difficult as herding cats). It’s freedom, an open house to ideas.
I pretty much knew the opening of Gods: Lone ex-sheriff living in the hills sees a helicopter crash and uncovers a plot to murder the president’s wife (yes, it’s a fantasy novel). I knew the Vulture God was involved but that was about it.
Whilst writing it, my brain presented a story to me of how our hero became the man he is. It all came at once, 15 dominoes in a row, and so I thought I’d go and write the flashback.
And it’s the fact I’m 25,000 words into the flashback (still the same dominoes, nothing changed at all) with possibly as much as another 20,000 to go that has me questioning my whole process. You see, in an early draft of Four Realms there was a similar thing happen with the history of the Vampirwaffen. I knew how they came about, the social conflict they presented within the vampire ‘community’; heck, I spent weeks reading up on the Russian Front to make sure their story matched up with history. It was, quite frankly, brilliant. I tried to shoehorn it in with an infodump because I so wanted to tell people their amazing story, but in the end it got cut. It’s an idea for a prequel book if Four Realms and its sequels ever got picked up and did well.
And so, as I write Gods and this flashback of indeterminate but ever increasing length (I know exactly what happens, I’m just bad at estimating the number of words), I’m thinking more and more that this, whilst a nice story, is going to get cut. I’m fine with the cutting, but it really, really bothers me that it’s taken 25,000+ words to realise this whilst at the same time still not being sure about what I should be doing.
The other thing, discovery isn’t doing for me, is story beats. With Four Realms, I spend a lot of effort on the two narrative strands ensuring that when one was up the other was down, that there was always something that would want to make you read ‘just one more chapter’. It’s a page turner, whereas Gods feels… well different – and I’m still unsure whether that’s good or bad.
I’m also aware that this last week has been tumultuous. SFX Weekender feels like a lifetime ago as I have a new day job starting next week and will be moving next month. There’s excitement, stress and a hundred other emotions washing over me right now and it’s enough to make me question my own judgement.
Sometimes though, projects need a step back to assess them. With Four Realms, I did similar when I realised what I was writing was two books – a decision that resulted in some major structural changes and a new subplot. It was needed, and I’m glad I made that decision. I think Gods needs something similar. I feel it’s missing that one final something, something I’d hoped the discovery progress would have brought out.
That said, I don’t think what I’ve written so far is bad (at least from a “it’s a first draft” perspective), it’s just very different in terms of actual novel-crafting gubbins to stuff I’ve written before. It feels like a story you soak in rather than get catapulted along. I don’t think one type is necessarily better than the other, but I’m usually the latter.
I think it’s healthy to play with process. Going and trying new things to see whether they work or fail is something few writers have the time or luxury of doing. I’ve learned that discovery doesn’t work for me – or at least I don’t believe it does. Coupled with a novel without chapters, anything I write is in danger of becoming long. tangential and waffling. It lacks foreshaowing, simply because I’m not sure what happens next (and I love decent foreshadowing). Of course, it’s a first draft, and worse still, it’s a first draft at *that point* in the book’s creation. But discovery writing means far more work in subsequent drafts and I don’t feel this is efficient.
So what now? Well, I intend to keep writing Gods, especially since that it’s at *that* stage and all this just might be writer angst. There will be a book at the end, possibly even a sellable one but I suspect that in order to turn it into the type of book I want to write it’s going to need a lot of work in the second draft. Behind the scenes, I’m going to attempt to put some structure in behind it to help focus the writing, but most of all I’ll be soldiering on.