Jay Lake: Writer

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[Process]

[process] It gets easier, it gets harder

As most of you reading this know, I have been working on Kalimpura lately. 21,900 words of first draft in the last three days, thanks to a bunch of time hanging around on airplanes. So far the prose is flowing well and the story is holding together nicely. Fred has introduced several interesting elements that were not in the outline, but generally, I am hewing to plan.

I have several process observations that arise from this experience.

1. Outlines have become more important to me. I wrote Rocket Science without any outline at all. I wrote Trial of Flowers from a five paragraph outline. Mainspring had an outline about twelve pages long. And so forth. Kalimpura‘s outline from which I am working right now is close to thirty pages. (And to note for future use, Sunspin‘s outline, which is nowhere near finished, is about seventy pages.)

I used to hate outlining because it seemed to take all the fun out of writing. For me, writing has always been about the joy of discovery. It’s like a specialized form of reading, except I’m channeling the story through my fingers instead of my eyes on a page. In the time that I’ve matured (or at least developed) as a writer, the outline has gone from a hated, mythical beast, to a necessary chore, to an invaluable tool.

Really, who knew? Besides everyone else, I mean.

2. This is the second time I’ve written a third book in series. (Pinion being the other, of course.) As I believe I observed while writing Pinion, it’s a rather different experience that writing a standalone or initial book. So much of the worldbuilding, characterization and discovery is in place. I have to touch on bits of it so a reader who’s starting with this book won’t be lost, but I have it internalized. That means that writing this book is a different experience for me. I am far more focused on plot and inter-character dynamics because that other stuff is already in place and not crying for attention. And much as I had this experience with Pinion, I think it’s likely to make a somewhat different kind of book.

Now if I could only figure out how to deliberately leverage this phenomenon in future projects.

3. My process evolves as well. This is profoundly unsurprising, of course, as a matter of principle, but still jolts me a bit when I encounter it. For example, one of my very firm guidelines for years has been not to revise while I’m drafting. I have seen many writers come to grief on the need to perfect a sentence/paragraph/scene before they can move on to the next, and thus never get to the other end of the project. My view has always been that it’s much easier to revise something already finished at least once on the page than it is to revise something still in your head. And frankly, if you want to be a commercially successful writer, I think this is probably close to essential.

Obviously at my production rates on this draft I have not gone into a revision spin cycle. But almost every day when I sit down to write, I find myself going into the previous day’s work for changes and clarifications, and in at least one case so far, major redirection.

Other things are changing, too. It’s fascinating to observe.

4. Per the above items, some things have become easier with time, others have become harder. My facility for laying down sentences is quite well-tuned. The act of writing, as it were, has developed into something nearly autonomous. Unless I choose to focus on line level style issues (as sometimes I do), I can rely on my skills there without having to consciously monitor them and adjust course.

On the other hand, my sense of point-of-view continues to ramify and develop. The more I learn about that subject, the less I understand it. This makes me question basic techniques in my writing, as well as try new ones in an attempt to address that unease. For whatever it’s worth, my two most complex pieces ever for point-of-view purposes are “America, Such as She Is”, and The Baby Killers. I couldn’t even begin to describe to you in any real detail what I did in those two novellas. In the case of Kalimpura, point-of-view choices I made in Green provide me with some very tight constraints that I need to continue to respect. Still, there are ways to work within and around those constraints to do things I didn’t used to be able to do as a writer.

That sense of having at least occasional access to a capability that remains mysterious to me is both challenging and fascinating. At least in part, this sense of always having a new learning curve to climb as a writer is part of why it keeps working for me. My sense of discovery has broadened.

Just some rambles, but it’s been so long since my life has been calm enough for me to reflect on and talk about process that I’m damned pleased to be able to make them.

What have you learned about your own writing lately?

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