A writer friend of mine sent a question to me, suggesting I should have a column. So let’s pretend I have an advice column for writers. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments! Here’s our exchange:
I’ve been working on a science fiction novel for most of the summer, having fun and seeing where it goes. I’ve got about 20k words, two fleshed-out protagonists, and an endpoint in mind. My usual approach to writing is to just plow ahead and get it done, then go back and revise for plot consistency, etc. But! I recently had a realization about the plot that will completely change what I’ve already written and will change how I proceed. Should I go back and change it now and risk getting caught up in endless polishing ruts? Or make a plot outline that reflects how I will re-shape the plot in the second draft and push forward? I’m leaning towards the latter.
Thanks a bunch!
Science fiction is hard to write without an outline, so you’ve given yourself a real challenge there. But that said it’s probably a fun ride to write and see where it goes!
If you find you can’t progress without dealing with the first 20K words, then go back and tinker under some kind of deadline (I’m only go to mess around with this for two weeks, for example).
My personal preference would be to draw a line in the manuscript and just pick up where you left off, heading in whatever new direction you realized you were on. At the end of the first draft, you can tackle the beginning that needs to be brought in line. I did this with a sci fi manuscript and it worked pretty well–what I changed there was a character that wasn’t working for me, and in changing the character all sorts of plot shifts cascaded from that.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a little time to sketch out the plot as it stands now (the first 20K words and the end point with a big white space in the middle) because it will probably still help you figure out where you’re going or what other pieces may need adjustment. On this page of my blog is the kind of diagram I’m talking about: http://transplantportation.com/press/
The first draft, for me, is about getting words on the page as effortlessly as possible. I have umpteenth revisions to make to flesh out character, ensure consistency, drive the tension/conflict, etc. I need to get my first draft under my belt as quickly as I can so that I have momentum going into revisions. The manuscripts that I’ve dawdled on are the ones that languish for years, but the ones where I pushed through, even if a lot of the writing was hellacious, those ones found completion. So find the path of least resistance, and don’t worry if you’ve never resolved plot issues that way before. Writing is about awakening, and process, and the sheer love of it. Don’t slow down. You can look back and get all writerly reflective later.
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