One of my favorite writerly things to keep tabs with on the internet is the Big Idea feature over on Scalzi’s blog. In fact, it was after reading Old Man’s War that I clicked over to his blog and started doing the rounds of authory stuff to help motivate myself. The Big Idea has other authors come in and talk about the inspiration and process behind their novels. Some of my favorites entries for My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and (I swear I’m not stalking him but I’m really jonesing to read his book when I’m done with Song of Fire and Ice), Control Point: Shadow Ops by Myke Cole.
Seeing a little bit of anyone’s creative process is fascinating to me but I think these stick out a bit more to me because their thought process seems a bit like mine. I had an English teacher in high school who (right or wrong) said she went to school with Stephen King and attributed a quote to him, “Write what you know.” These authors seem to do that. Rowland worked in a morgue, Cline is a fellow exEverCrack player and Cole is a military guy. That’s the kind of thing I try to do. Seems odd when I live deep in the genre world but I like to always start with a grain of truth at the bottom of any story I write, short or long. Sometimes it’s harder to find, but it’s always there.
When I started outlining the novel I’m working on, I thought “Ok. What the hell do I know?” which I don’t think is that uncommon of a question. Rather philosophical, just probably with more swears than that. The answers I came up with were Pirates, Stupid History Trivia, and Shipbuilding what since that last one is my day job. Those became my grains of truth.
Way back I started doing outlines. I’ve tried winging it in the National Novel Writing Month and I just get lost after the first act. I like to use broad bullet points. I don’t need to know every single stop on the way from points A to Z, but I like to know where A, J, P and W are to keep me in the right direction. I leave wiggle room, lots of it, so the story can go where it needs to but the bullet points keep me from getting lost.
Because of that aforementioned day job, I actually got in the habit of handwriting my first draft. While taking a writing class a while back, due to my crap time management skills, I ended up doing a lot of my homework on my lunch breaks. You can’t exactly bring in a USB drive to a place that requires government security clearances. I’ve found that handwriting the first draft forces me to do a proper draft process, something I never bothered with in school. I’d always meh my way through the draft process going through any motions my prof would ask. Drafts help. They really do. But you can’t constantly life in editing hell unless you finish something first. Using pen and paper means I can only fit so many scribbles on a page before I can’t fit more and onward I go. Helps the momentum.
Sucks on the word counts though since I have to actually count them. But I’ve safely estimated that I can hit around 250 to 300 per page depending on amount of dialogue. Word counts are a worry for the second draft anyways. And speaking of word counts, I’m going to go see if I can’t knock off a few hundred and finish my latest short story.