Jay Lake: Writer

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[Process]

[process] Part the fifth of Consumers and Producers

Here is the second-to-last installment of this little series. One more time, I’d like to thank everyone who’s involved themselves in the discussion so far. For reference, and if you’d like to catch up on the various comments:

Part 1jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 2jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 3jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

Part 4jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

I have said I’m writing Sunspin in a manner similar to how I wrote years ago, long before I first achieved unconscious competence as a writer. What that actually means is that I started with a far more complex novel outline than ever before. It’s over 140 pages now, of which 50 pages is synoptic outline and the rest is background, continuity notes, lists of characters and places and starships, etc.

The synoptic outline is divided into three books, Calamity of So Long a Life, The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered. Each book is in turn divided into thirds within the outline. I’ve never before so explicitly addressed the three-act structure that is such a basic default of the Western storytelling tradition. But I had to do so, in order to manage this eleven-POV, +/-600,000 word monster of a project.

I’m writing each third-of-a-third of the book as its own project. Within each third-of-a-third, I’m again dividing into thirds, so now I’m tackling 20,000-30,000 word chunks. Novellas, in effect, well within my span of control in their own right.

Except they’re not novellas, because they don’t stand alone. Each chunk has to follow on what came before. Each has to foreshadow and otherwise establish what will come next. And I have to keep track of my eleven protagonists, who do not appear in a regular rotation, but rather weave in and out as I want to measure out story action and information to the reader. (See, down at the bottom I’m still writing as a Consumer.)

Furthermore, the synoptic outline is not divided into thirds-of-a-third-of-a-third, so as I approach each novella-sized chunk, I have to deconstruct that section of the outline and apportion the major plot and character developments so the internal pacing demands of that act of the book can be satisfied.

All of the above requires an enormous amount of overhead on my part for explicit structured thinking in Producer mode while I am still in the act of first drafting. I have to keep interrupting the flow of words on the page from my writing-as-a-Consumer mode to adjust and re-aim and refine. It’s the only way to get this thing right. Imagine the amplitude of an error made now when I am 500,000 words further into the text.

I’m not following the headlights anymore, I’m looking way the hell over the horizon.

Much as I did when I first started writing. Except back then ‘over the horizon’ was 500 or 600 words distant, when I very first began. Now it’s 500,000 or 600,000 words distant.

My Producer skills are being deployed to tear down my Consumer-driven craft skills and force my comfortable writing-as-a-Consumer self to deal directly with things that historically I either did unconsciously on first draft or retrofitted later on revision.

Will Sunspin be a better book for this process shift? I sure hope so. At the least, it will be a possible book for this process shift. I couldn’t have written this any other way.

I also confidently expect to be a much better writer for having gone through this experience. Every time I’ve stretched, I’ve improved. This is maybe the biggest stretch I’ve ever taken, but then my writing life is bigger than it used to be.

I certainly don’t plan to write anything longer than this in the future. Which is not to say that I wouldn’t take on an extended multivolume series if the story deserved it and the market demanded it. I just mean I likely won’t tackle such a huge tranche of work in one swell foop.

It’s also the case that I recently realized the manner in which I’m writing Sunspin is a warm up for my book-in-waiting, Original Destiny, Manifest Sin. I plan to write that one next after I’m done with the current effort. I’ve said for years I wasn’t ready for that book, not skilled enough. While Sunspin is an ambitious, full life cycle project in its own right, oddly, it’s also a form of throat clearing for an even more structurally and thematically ambitious if much shorter project to come.

Back to my original topic, Sunspin has caused me to completely re-engage with my own habits and practices as both a Consumer and a Producer. This will definitely make me a better Producer. With luck, it will also make me a better Consumer. Most of all, I expect it to help me produce better Story.

Next up, the last of these posts in which I promise I shall return to my original point, and tie my process discussion more firmly into it.

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