I’m a big believer in prewriting. I design my stories, building them with care before I even start writing.
Somebody once said even the best battle plan only lasts until the first shot is fired (or something to that effect). It certainly applies to writing. Stories change in the telling. It’s just part of the process.
Last week I suggested reviewing your prewriting if you haven’t. I usually review mine almost daily, before (and sometimes immediately after) any given writing session. It’s a constant tinkering, and though I know that leeches away some precious moments I could be spending on new material, it makes my overall writing process a lot smoother.
Often. Usually. Almost always.
Except…well, Sunday night it failed me.
Courtney’s been giving her NaNoWriMo updates here on the site, but I’ve been limiting mine to tweets and spreadsheet updates that only my little writing group can see. Still, I should give a little bit of background by way of context.
So picture this: It’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m coming off a week of just blazing through my novel. It’s the fourth in the series, and there are times when I’m thinking, “This is going to be the best one yet!”
I’ve got a gunfight that’s just killer, I finally engage with some deep philosophical questions I know my readers have been asking since book one, and I’m finally letting Katie off the chain. She’s an all-out warrior princess in this one. She doesn’t need any stinkin’ man to rescue her.
It was a little slow getting started, but by the time I hit the first plot point I was rolling, and I’ve only accelerated from there. Friday I wrote 10,000 words. Friday. I mentioned that to my writing group, and they kicked me out.
Saturday I hit 50,000 words at 11:00 in the morning, and by the end of the day I was nearly done with chapter 11 (of 15). Instead of finishing it off, I chose to watch a movie and chat with a friend. No need to rush it, right? Smooth sailing from here on out.
So Sunday I slept in, then church with the family, went out to a nice lunch, worked on the finances with Trish, and watched a Cowboys game that had me cheering. Then I slipped off to the office to finish up chapter 11 before dinner, and a whole evening set aside afterward to write a good chunk of chapter 12.
Chapter 11 gave up the ghost, easily enough. I already had Katie caught up in a conversation with the evil villain, and his personality just writes pages. As long as I can get him on camera, the book writes itself. So he menaced and Katie calculated, and just like that 11 was done.
I sat back, victorious. I updated my word count. I checked to make sure chapter 11 ended up long enough (I always do that). Then I realized I still had a few minutes left before dinner, so I decided to get a head start.
I started a new line at the end of my document. I type, “12.” And then I realized I’d forgotten my chapter title for 12. No problem there. I just clicked over to the Google Docs tab with my scene list in it, and scrolled down to chapter 12. “Identity Cult.” Ooh…cool.
But then I glanced at the description of what needed to happen in the chapter. It was mainly a long conversation between Katie and her partner, Nancy Drew stuff, figuring out what was really going on, and tracking down some suspects.
It was like a punch to the gut, because I’d already written that whole conversation. It took up something like the fourth through the eighth pages of my chapter 11. I scrolled on down to chapter 13, and that was pretty much pages ten to fifteen. It was all written. In fact, the conversation with the villain was supposed to be the opening scene of chapter 14.
In one day’s work, I’d robbed myself of two whole chapters. I sat there, stunned, until Trish called me in for dinner. I told her the whole story — my voice sounding numb and flat to my own ears — and spent dinner trying to figure out how I was going to fix it.
The problem was, it worked. The conversation worked well as it was, one chapter long, and I strongly suspected it would have gotten extremely slow and tedious if I’d actually dragged it out for fifty pages as I’d originally intended. So I didn’t want to go back to my original plan, but now I didn’t have enough material left to fill up my book.
I found myself completely stuck. Lost. I spent about half an hour cursing. I took AB to pick up some ice cream since I didn’t have anything to write, and I spent the whole drive talking through the story with her. (It’s a violent technothriller and she’s a three-year-old girl, so as brainstorming sessions go, it wasn’t the most useful.)
I got back home and watched some TV with Trish, helped put the kids to bed, and then I went to the office to see what I could salvage.
In the end, I worked on my scene list. Just like I recommended last Friday. I set aside my novel, and spent every minute of the evening’s writing session patching up my broken prewriting. I ended up writing over 4,000 words in that document, and not a single one in chapter 12.
That’s okay, though. It’s fixed now. I’ve got somewhere to go, and plenty of time to get there. I’ve got a whole new third act, and it’s better than ever.
The writing process is a strange one. It’s an unpredictable adventure, no matter how long you pursue it. Sometimes it’s agonizing, sometimes it’s glorious, but it’s always got a few surprises in store.
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.