Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Faster, Writing Better

Weekend before last, I went to the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold conference.  It was my 6th year in a row attending, and just like the previous years, I had an excellent experience.  Haha, this year, I even managed to attend some actual panels instead of spending all my time in the lobby socializing! The best and most motivating of the panels for me was one on "Writing Faster, Writing Better" - something I felt in desperate need of advice on, as I've been struggling to make progress on The Labyrinth of Flame while having less time to write than I ever did on the previous 2 books.  (Damn do I miss the days when my son took a nice 1.5-hour afternoon nap!)

I'm happy to say I came away from the panel with a whole new slew of tricks to try.  Many of them are psychological - everything from picking a simple ritual to perform before every writing session (lighting a candle, listening to a single song, etc), to using a 20-min timer for writing spurts.  Others involve actual adjustments of your writing process.  I've decided to try one of these - the "scene outlining" approach.  (Author Rachel Aaron describes this in her "2K to 10K" approach.)  

Usually by the time I get to a scene, I know pretty much what I want to happen, so I've never tried outlining it in any detail before I write.  I just sit down and start typing, and work through the details of dialogue and action as I go.  Yet I've noticed recently I've been stopping a whole lot while writing to stare at the screen and think about those very details.  They *need* to be thought through, no question; if I just force myself to plow onward willy-nilly, then sure, I pump out words, but then they have to be completely rewritten later because the details are so far from right. Whereas if I sit down and work out all those details in advance of actually setting fingers to keyboard, I'm hoping I can write a far more useful draft version of the scene in far less time. 

I'm not entirely sure how much time this will save me.  Yes, if I work out details in outline form, I'm not trying to write them in prose that other people would read, so that obviously saves a bit of typing-deleting-retyping.  Maybe I can also save time if I think through the scene during other moments of the day (driving to/from work, eating, etc).  But the "thinking" part is always the part that takes me longest, and often I don't have a good grasp of how best to handle a scene until I've actually tried to write the prose and found it doesn't work the way I was originally thinking.  So we'll see!  But I'm a big proponent of "If something's not working, then make a change."  My current writing process isn't letting me make the progress I want.  Time to switch it up.

As part of that, I've decided to make a big wordcount push on Labyrinth of Flame in Oct & Nov.  Full speed ahead, no revision, always moving forward (while using scene outlining, etc, to try and keep the words I put down somewhat useful).  So consider this a heads-up: I'll be a bit scarce around these parts.  I'll post my schedule for MileHiCon when I get it, and I'm thinking of doing a brief post every Monday for my own benefit, to tally progress and see how things are working (and decide if I need to try different tricks out of the workshop bag).  But other than that, it's gonna be nose to grindstone, fingers to keyboard.  

I don't expect this push to let me reach the end of the draft - I'll probably need at least another month or two afterward - but I want to get much, MUCH closer than I am right now.  I remember how awesome it felt to write THE END on the first draft of The Tainted City.  It can be summed up pretty much like this:

Sticking the landing on my final axel while competing at Adult Nationals a few years back. I'd fallen on that jump a million times (nothing harder than landing a jump at the very end of your program, when your legs are exhausted).  That time I made it - and won gold.  (Woo hoo!)
So here's hoping I can move the happy day for The Labyrinth of Flame a whole lot closer.  Fingers crossed!  


  1. Best of luck with the new technique. I do know that Olympic sports psychologists are big on having a ritual at the beginning of each event, and also having athletes visualizing themselves performing well. Much better than my own practice of saying, "Dear God, don't let me suck."

    And wait a minute... you're an accomplished electrical engineer, climber, writer, and a gold medal winning skater? If your son is anything like you, I'd think the last thing he'd be interested in is a nap. :-)

  2. Yay, Courtney! This post really inspired me, thank you!