I’ve written 13 novels that are available as ebooks on Amazon’s kindle and as paperback from CreateSpace. With one exception, I’ve followed the same procedure in writing each one. I made copious notes first, put them in a sensible order, then created an outline and wrote first drafts, with which I pushed straight ahead till I came to an end, without going back to correct, even if what I’d written felt like the worst drivel on two continents. With a finished first draft, I’d gotten past a big hurdle and had something to work with.
I then began to revise, to rewrite– some people call it editing. I often added new material, while the shell of events and characters stayed as I’d conceived them when I made an outline and wrote a very rough draft. Revising was always a long process for me. I knew I was coming to the final steps when I began liking what I’d written and was still writing.
The exception I referred to is a novel called “The World, the City, and the Wakemans”, which I began as an improvisation. I wrote the first chapter in one sitting without notes or outline or almost any forethought and wrote the next one the following day or soon after, also without preparation or more than a vague idea of what I’d write. I wrote 99 chapters — one short of 100 — following this pattern.
During revising, I refined sentences and paragraphs, made sure the story held together consistently, and added three novella length paranormal interludes that take place in a society that suffers from a plague of extreme technological excess — a contrast to the rest of the novel, which is rooted in the realistic tradition.
Despite the fact that my work habits have been the same for most of my stories, I found that each project brought unique challenges. I must have written each chapter of my first novel, “The Pilhannaw”, at least 15 times in the days when I didn’t have a word processor and a few times more after I updated my equipment. I then felt confident to make it available on kindle.
I had another novel that was once 1700 handwritten pages (I still write first drafts in longhand) that I typed into the old Word Perfect and broke down into five separate novels, which with additions became a series I call “Witnesses”.
A novel with the title “Brief Lives” presented none of the hurdles I encountered with my other novels. I knew the story would be about a theater company putting on a new play and that each chapter would be about one of the people involved in the production or interested in it. I made a list of characters and began writing. My work went unusually smoothly even when I inserted two novellas that looked at the subject of the play from different angles. Writing “Brief Lives” didn’t take me less time — about five years — than other novels, but I didn’t have long spells when I couldn’t figure out what to do.
More recently, I’ve been working on a novel, tentatively called “Prophets”, for a little more than two years. It consist of one narrative set in the present day, another in the 18th century three decades before the American Revolution, a dozen poems based on the Minor Prophets in the Old Testament, and a novella at the end about a woman who reaches for and attains a high degree of worldly success. I believe there’s enough in the story now to make a complete novel. My challenge is to refine each sentence and paragraph and refine them again until I hear the click that means “it’s ready”. I’ll recognize it when it comes. And then, God willing, I’ll turn to a sequel.
The point is that every creative project brings unique challenges that require their own special solutions. If I get temporarily stuck when I come to a hurdle, I say, “I”ve got this far, I can go the rest of the way.” Prayer helps, too.