Breaking my rules

A lot of the work of a beginning writer is figuring out what works for you–reading lots of writing manuals, and taking classes, trying things. This is how writers end up with very specific writing places, times, and habits, and all of those can be very helpful. Some of my rules and habits:

  • I outline by listing chunks that will be chapters in the future and figure out what happens in each chapter, and how it serves plot, character, and theme
  • I rough draft in fast chunks while sitting cross-legged, on a couch or in bed, with my laptop on a pillow in my lap
  • I revise at a desk with my laptop and a separate monitor
  • I never write more than 2000 new words in a day, since more seems to dip into my store of words for the next day
  • I don’t go back and edit what I’ve already written until I get (near) to the end
  • If I lose flow when I’m rough drafting, I write long hand, asking myself questions and answering them
  • I write every day if possible

But I’m starting to feel like the ongoing work of a writer is figuring out new ways to write, how to break the rules when I need to, and find new things that work when old ones don’t. Many writers have said that when you write a novel you learn to write that novel. When you begin the next novel you have to learn how to write that one. With The Golden Wolf, the third and final book of my viking trilogy, I’ve done all kinds of things differently:

  • A lot more editing as I go. I was nearly finished writing a big set piece that took up about 30,000 words and then realized that it was boring and there was nothing I could do to make it unboring, and I moved most of the action that had to happen to different places
  • A lot more detailed plotting of big set-pieces as I go
  • Recently I tried writing 3000 new words a day for a few days–kept it up for a whole 4 days, but I really do feel like it may be too much
  • And for the third time, I am now stopping before the end to go back to the beginning and bring the reality of what I’ve written more in line with what I’m imagining

I’m taking a couple days right now to ask myself all the questions I have about what needs to happen in the book, from details about how a battle that involves at least five competing agendas will play out, and serve all of the characters’ arcs and the plot’s needs, to more general questions like going over various characters’ arcs, and to write out all of these answers longhand.

I often find that as I revise, I add more drama, I combine characters, weave arcs and plot points together, and I give characters more agency. Now I have, again, gotten to the place where I need to make that happen. With all this rule-breaking though, I frequently wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I guess I’m just trying to do whatever keeps me moving forward, whatever keeps me making the novel better, more what it needs to be.

I’ve also raised the degree of difficulty on each of the novels I’ve written so far, at least with some aspects of craft. The Sea Queen definitely has a more complex plot than The Half-Drowned King, at least in terms of moving parts that have to line up, and it also has an additional POV character. The Golden Wolf raises the difficulty level again, with two new POV characters who have full arcs (rather than supporting arcs), more supporting characters, more complex politics, more settings, more battles, three different climaxes–at least. I shouldn’t be surprised that it feels like more of a challenge.

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