Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Do You Write?

There hasn't been much writing here this week.  There just hasn't been time for it.  The book is taking form steadily, patiently; I would like to hear anything people might have to say about the sidebar updating my progress.  Good idea?  Bad?  Waste of my time?

It has accomplished one thing for me.  I feel absolutely awful if I have to put a zero there.  Sometimes, that's because I don't do any work at all.  Sometimes, because I'm writing some part of the book doesn't qualify as "progress."

I'll try to explain my thinking on this.  Typically, I write a very rough first draft of anything I take very seriously.  Then I will write a much better second draft, fitting in all the details and additional concepts that have arisen since the first draft, along with extending the descriptions, the general pattern of the characters and extending or adding scenes where warranted.  I'll also butcher scenes with the second draft; I may remove whole characters who don't fit into the scheme or which I decide are superfluous.  It is sometimes very hard to nail down all the details of the second draft.  This particular novel has been a nightmare in this regard, particularly as the last third of the book has snaked around like a firehose that has broken free and is now breaking windows.

The last third of this book exists much more in my mind than on paper.  I work at parts of it, I rewrite, I adjust the order of events, I change the specific setting itself, I calculate the transitions and how to get characters in and out of scenes without it looking obvious.  The movement of the characters should appear natural, not forced and definitely not dependent on one of them carrying around an idiot ball or some other awful writing trope.

So, still working on the second draft for that last third.  There are notes in abundance, pieces and bits of detail, passages where I've written out what happens and some things still relevant from the first draft.  I'm about 95% certain about the end of the second draft, now, but it still challenges me.

After the second draft, I'll work on the third draft.  This is where I work primarily on the language. For this book, I'm doing my best to keep word use so that the vocabulary is no later than mid-18th century.  For reckoning, every word in this post, so far as I know, would qualify ~ so I'm not writing in a pre-18th century style but I am keeping my idioms and references clear of post 18th century slang and usage.  For instance, lately I had to change my intention of using "mindset," as that is 1920s jargon.  I wanted to put another example here, but frankly I can't remember one.  Most of the time a word is fair game.

I clean up the extra words and struggle making things clearer.  I am getting better at this.  Part of me wants to go back and rework the language of How to Run and other things I've written because have the 18 months with this book I feel like I have better defined myself than ever before.  But that is probably also due to the blog.

After the third draft, then I do a read-through, preferably with time lapsed between writing and reading.  This read through tightens up the language still further and helps identify continuity errors, which are a terrible problem in any long work.  He took off the ring in chapter three but he is still wearing it in chapter four, that sort of thing.  That stuff is still likely to slip through.

Finally, there are words that get missed, even though the passage reads perfectly to me; I just don't see the missing word.  Or the typo.  Or the small spelling error.  It isn't that I haven't read the passage at least a dozen times, it's just that my mind and the text are hopelessly mutable.  At some point in the past, that word was probably there or it was spelled correctly. But after shifting and changing and adjusting and rewriting, it gets taken out even though my brain rates it as still present.  This is why someone else is always needed.

Anyway, it is only this final reading that I am counting as "progress."  So if I go work on some passage of the book that isn't part of this final edit, it isn't progress, not yet.  As such, I try to work on some rewriting each day, then a small bit of progress on top of it, to feel like the book is making headway.

Hope that clears up some things for the reader ~ and I hope that for some writers, they can compare their own habits to mine.  Being asked, "How do you write?" is a very common thing for a writer.

6 comments:

Samuel Kernan said...

I like the progress in the sidebar. I find myself rooting for you to get a big day.

kimbo said...

Alexis,
Do you often get into a flow state in writing (or even editing)? If so, how does the work quality compare to when it was non-flow, or grind if you will?
K

Alexis Smolensk said...

That's a question!

Kimbo, I used to "get into a flow" so to speak, with the idea of writing well and not poorly. Over time, I steadily learned not to write at all when I wasn't in a flow, since it was always crap and had to be tossed. If I'm not in the right mood to write, I just don't.

After a really long time at this, however, I can push myself to get into the mood in a bunch of different ways, so long as I can alleviate my stress. It is really stress that keeps me from writing, not inspiration. Inspiration I can generate at will, almost; but if I'm stressed, I can't focus and I can't get into the flow.

So I purposefully meditate, usually in the dark in a very hot bath (minor sensory deprivation0, or I go out for a walk (dopamine, endorphins), or I work on something intricate but non-problem solving (map-making, statistics) . . . and then when I'm relaxed enough, I write. If I'm in that right mental space, I'm always in a flow state.

kimbo said...

Thank you for that insight, Alexis. I was curious because a friend of mine (who is, i suspect, like you high in trait conscientiousness) was describing his regular flow states in which he does a staggering amount of work (legal consultant), yet detailed and accurate.... and the collapse afterward. It is a curious combination of discipline and whatever induces flow. It may be something like optimal arousal plus strong focus plus interest. I have not heard anyone before speak of a preparitory process for high productivity mental performance.
K

Drain said...

Here's another, Alexis: is music involved at all?

As I find my own keyboard dashes to be highly influenced by what I listen to, it got me wondering if that too might be a factor in getting you in the mindset.

I've seen people grind to a background of podcasts, nature docs, sitcoms or movies, even the noise of crowds or, more rarely, utter silence.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I prefer utter silence. I must be some throwback to the medieval era, when monks used to speak to themselves as they wrote out sermons and biblical tracts in monasteries, because I do that. I appreciate listening to how a work sounds, as this is a good measure of how close to proper communication it can be. So I write and read aloud, then write some more.

Because I'm in an environment now where utter silence is almost impossible to come by, as I live with other people who listen to internet nonsense with maniacal addiction, I have recently begun to write while listening to long youtube videos depicting rain or storms. This video is my go-to favorite, which is to say it is the most neutral sound I can find.