The Holding Pattern

It’s almost two weeks since I finished the first draft for For More Than Earthly Ends, and it’s still with some of the beta readers, though there’s been a bit of feedback. I’m not really writing about that at the moment, but I’ll say that while there are criticisms (and who wouldn’t expect that on a first draft), so far it’s been positive.

I’ve started getting ideas together for what I want to do with the second draft, but I’ve held myself back from starting so far, because I still want a little extra space from it.

What does that mean exactly, and more importantly, why am I doing it?

What, that’s easy. I’m taking a break from working on FMTEE, and filling my days with other things. I’ve only done a small amount of writing since I hit that last word on March 29, and most of what I have done has been planning. That’s planning for a fantasy novel I was working on about 12-18 months ago. Yes, true to the stereotype, I go for Science Fiction AND Fantasy – love to be diverse in that way. It was a people and demons being used as pawns of the Gods, blood-smoke-and-steel affair. I suppose it still is, though yep, it’s all just the planning. While I entertained the idea, I’m not looking at starting on the actual draft of it until after FMTEE’s second draft is done, and possibly not even until it’s complete. Complete in this context means printable. Currently it’s just readable (with qualifiers of “hey, first draft y’know“).

Planning is a good way to throw my mind at another story, and slowly force my preconceptions and knowledge of FMTEE out of my head.

I’m also taking some time to read. Reading is another great way to get out of my own head, and I tend to prefer doing it when I’m not in the middle of writing something, so that there’s little bleedthrough in style – cause that can happen. This is especially true if you’re a little habit magnet that soaks up your surroundings – like when you speak to someone with a noticeable accent, and you find a slight lilt creeping into the occasional word. It applies to whatever type of media you’re consuming. If you’re watching a lot of a TV show, you might start picturing your characters as one of those characters on occasion, or use a phrase you’ve heard there.

It’s part of the way people work – we adopt, mimic, conform. It’s why memes spread so rapidly, why friends tend to talk similarly, and why language is around to begin with. It’s why politics uses simple phrases, and why the news offers soundbites. They’re easily digestible, which means they’re easily repeatable and become part of our thought process. 1984 itself goes into an offshoot of this, by changing language to a point where undesirable thoughts cannot be expressed because the language for them to manifest in is removed. While the ramifications are far beyond what I intended to write about (which is writing, leaving space, etc), I’m gonna cannibalise a quote from one of my favourite narratives, and leave an open-ended question in the middle of this:

“Civilization is based on the technology of [language]. By using it, civilization develops along the paths desired.”

That really is something quite unrelated to the point – which was that whatever you consume creatively will show in what you output, or, you write what you eat.

So, reading. Yes. At the moment I’m reading The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, which I’m about a quarter of the way through. It reminds me in style and subject matter of Snowcrash, This Other Eden, or The Road to Mars. If you know and like any of those, it’s worth checking out. So far it has managed to hold my attention, so that’s something a lot of books can’t say.

In addition to that, there’s my general frivolity which covers watching TV, movies, playing games (which includes a leisurely pace through The Elder Scrolls Online), and generally filling my day with things that aren’t FMTEE.

Why though. Why WHY WHY??

Cause.

For me, giving it time is about forgetting the journey. It’s about forgetting exactly what happened when I first wrote it, so that even if I know the rough way things go, I can read it with eyes closer to that of the reader than the writer. It’s so I can look back on a scene and ask whether it really belongs there, rather than being all pleased with myself that it’s there because I remember when I wrote it and how exciting it was to get out. It’s to make myself a better judge of my writing than I am right now, by removing my knowledge and bias and all those things that get in the way of judging the quality.

At some level I’ll remember things. I’ll not forget what twists might be present, or might recall the reasons a character is doing something before their state of mind is revealed and it becomes clear to all why they’re doing it. I can still be surprised though. I had a few surprised through the course of writing the thing, and I know from past experiences that sometimes I’ll read something and not remember where it was going.

I need that separation from my work, from the writing process, so I can identify what needs to be done.

The reason I can’t just send my mind back at it while I’m in writing mode, is that when I’m in writing mode, I think that every problem can be solved by writing more. Even problems that don’t exist. You can go back and rewrite forever, and while you’re stuck in writing mode, that’s what you’ll do. You’ll try to rewrite things that are fine, and then look at them again a week later, and want to change them back, or start anew. Then you’ll have seven versions of the same damn paragraph – not even page or scene, just a singular paragraph approached in seven different ways, and you won’t know which one you like, and whether it even makes a difference.

You have to get yourself out of the process for a bit of time, so that writing and rewriting isn’t a reflex. You have to get yourself away from a story so you forget enough of the writing that you get lost in the noun, and not slink back into the verb. At least until you’re ready to verb the noun again.

I’m not yet, so I’m keeping myself busy/otherwise occupied, until I am.


 

Other minor – I’ve added a link to the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Blogs Competition on the right-hand side of the front page. If you find this post (or any here) useful, please vote for Fictioner’s Net.

 

2 thoughts on “The Holding Pattern

  1. This is what I’ve been struggling with lately. I’m in the middle of my second draft and part of me wants to take a break, while the type-A side is yelling at me to keep going. I’ve been listening far too much to the latter, and realized I’ve been rewriting things that really don’t need to be changed. It’s difficult to stop though without feel like a lazy lump! That’s good that you’ve been able to keep yourself busy. I should probably try that too 🙂

    1. I had that same thing happen with a different second draft, which is where lots of my ideas on a ‘better’ way to approach it come from. I had a scene at the very start of the novel in question which was simultaneously the introduction to the characters and an introduction to the world, and an inciting incident of sorts. After quite a few retreads of the same scene, they started to feel the same as one another, and I realised I needed something new entirely for it. I ended up moving things to a small-scale scene, with the two main characters interacting in a room, giving me a way to introduce them while not trying to load up a single first-scene with too much.

      Changing the name of a character also helped me, since I could more easily think about what was happening as ‘new’ (rather than associating all the different versions of the scene with the same character), but that’s a more extreme change.

      After that I added another scene to paint the world a little with one of the characters, and only then was I able to go back to the very original scene and write it as it needed to be.

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