When Experimentation Bites Back

For the latest book in the Kyra Sarin series, Violent Science, I’ve been conducting something of an experiment. Anyone who reads this blog regularly, or watches my Nitty Gritty of Writing videos on YouTube, probably knows that I like to experiment with my writing process a lot. I constantly test and track things to see what works and what doesn’t.

I noticed something about my previous books: I’d create an outline for the book, then get halfway or more through it and realise the outline needed to be changed to fit what the characters now wanted to do.

So I thought: why not write half an outline instead? Why put in the work to write a complete outline, when I was only going to use half of it? So I decided to start Violent Science with only an outline for the first half of the book.

It was a disastrous idea in hindsight. While I might discard half the outline when I get halfway through a book, it’s usually because I’ve come up with something better. As most authors know, if you have something down, you can improve it. Beating the blank page starts by putting anything down, even if it’s stupid.

Which meant I came to the end of the outline I’d prepared at about 15 thousand words in and didn’t know what was meant to happen next. So I wracked my brain, went for a few long walks, and came up with the next 15 thousand words. And then again when I wrote what I’d planned there. It was quite a painful process and I ended up with about 45 thousand words. I always underwrite, so 45 thousand will become about 55 thousand or more on rewriting.

I’m now editing what I’ve written and finding I’ve slipped back in time. Before I was a planner, I was a pantser. ie I wrote things by the seat of my pants. Which meant I then had to revise them multiple times before they were worth reading. And in not planning this book properly, I’ve done the same thing.

So instead of doing an edit, I’m now in the midst of a rewrite.

I don’t like editing, it’s painful. But rewriting is the worst. It feels like drawing teeth when I have to rewrite something extensively. And people are waiting on this book, so I need to bite the bullet and do it.

The finished book tends not to be radically better or worse for the rewriting. At least it hasn’t in the past. It’s just a difference in the amount of time it takes and how enjoyable the writing experience is to me.

So I need to plan out the next books very carefully. Perhaps even planning them more than I normally do would help, as underplanning has made things more difficult.

Experimentation in my writing process has reduced the time it takes me to write from hundreds of hours for a novel down to 80 or so. However, sometimes a hypothesis is wrong. This is certainly one of those cases.


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  1. Pingback: It’s Not So Bad | Simon Cantan

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