I don't usually have rough first drafts of my books, not because everything comes out perfectly the first time. In fact, the complete opposite is true. I am someone who is constantly rewriting. I barely get a sentence out and I feel the urge to tweak it. There always seems to be a better way to phrase something, a more exact noun, a stronger verb. I'm not sure my writing is all the better for this obsessiveness--sometimes I'm just spinning my wheels. And it takes away from the joy of writing. Too much worry, not enough creativity.
Dean Wesley Smith wrote a terrific article on the benefits of writing quickly. He disputes the long held notion that slow writing equals quality and vice versa. I read his thoughts on the subject and it wasn't just a light bulb moment--for me it was a sunrise moment.
Ironically, I just finished writing a sequel to my book, Celia and the Fairies, where I'd unknowingly tested his theory (this was before I'd read his article). I'd been struggling with writing the manuscript so I decided to just write the thing already. Enough with the over-thinking it. I deliberately chose to write fast and furiously and not look back. I was comfortable doing this because I knew the manuscript would be fairly short by book standards. Knowing I might be making a mess of 120 pages was less scary than possibly screwing up 300 plus.
Once I turned off the analytical part of my brain, the creative side kicked into high gear and the pages flew. I had no idea if the story was any good, but after awhile I didn't care because I was almost giddy with the ease of it. When I was done, I gave it some time before I read it from start to finish. My biggest worry was that most of it would be complete rubbish, but you know what? Only about 10% of it needed work, and even that wasn't truly appalling. Just not there yet. And easily fixed, which isn't always the case.
This was a revelation for me. I'm a plodder, worrier, constant-tweaker. But knowing I don't have to be and that there are actual advantages to writing quickly, empowered me. (Thanks Dean Wesley Smith!) I can't imagine I'll ever be one of those writers who cranks out six books a year, but now I give myself permission to throw words out there and trust it will all work out. It may not, of course, but at least I'll have fun along the way.
I'm working on a novel now and it's humming along. When I'm not sure about a detail, I leave a blank and figure I'll fill it in later (I believe I first read about doing this in Stephen King's book On Writing--a really terrific book that every writer should read). So if a character says something about visiting their grandfather in another state and I haven't quite worked out which state that would be, I leave space. Doing this saves me an incredible amount of time. In the past, every time I stopped to research a minor detail I pulled myself out of the story, making it hard for me to get back into it.
So thanks, Stephen King! Of course I didn't need permission from Steve to leave blanks in my work-in-progress, but knowing the master does something a certain way is validating.
Every writer has their own methodology. Some need to work out the plot in advance. So far that's not been something I enjoy doing. Outlining fiction turns it into drudgery for me. I can imagine sitting down to write and thinking, okay, today I'll write the chapter where he finds out she lied about Tuesday night when she said she went to book club... Bleah, where's the fun in that? I don't want to know ahead of time. I want to experience the story along with the character. I want to find out where she was Tuesday along with him and feel what he feels. Writing fiction (for me) is largely about discovery.
That's not to say I don't have any control over the events in my books. Sometimes I'll write myself into a corner or stall out completely. When that happens I often thumb through The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, a book that discusses the underlying mythic structure of stories. I don't necessarily follow the story structure as detailed in the book--I use the book as a way to brainstorm possible plot points. Something about reading how others have done it gives me ideas. Usually one idea will feel right and I'll be off and running again.
No two writing days are ever alike. Every book has its own unique challenges, joys, and frustrations. By necessity I'm always evolving as a writer. The only thing I know for sure is that I don't know anything for sure. Next month I may be writing a blog post on the joys of outlining. I don't think I will, but you never know.