Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Good Life

Ah, the holidays – that magical time of year when submissions go unread, and the great, multi-headed beast that is the publishing industry gets sleepy from turkey consumption and moves with all the speed of congealed gravy...

Sorry. That one got away from me a bit. Anyway, where was I?

Right. The holidays. It seems for most of the publishing world, the holidays are a time to close up shop and catch up on the heaps of work that have piled up in the preceding months. For me, though, the holidays are all about vast swaths of time in which the Day Job doth not interfere, which means I get to wake up in the morning, make myself a cup of tea, and clack away at the keyboard for hours unimpeded. They say most folks prefer having written to writing, and believe me, having written doesn't suck, but writing (when it's working) is about the best damn thing there is. Okay, top five at least.

Now, I'm not the speediest writer in the world (Nora Roberts, for example, has written and sold three novels in the time it's taken me to type this sentence), so I can use all the extra time I can get. Especially since I'm trying something a little different with the Next Book: namely, not outlining. With The Angels' Share, both the demands of the plot and the fact that I'd never written a novel-length work before made outlining a natural choice, and it doubtless had its benefits. I think the plot is fairly tight, and I was able to plan the rhythm of the book in a way not possible when writing off the cuff. The flip-side of that, though, is that some of my favorite passages in that book were total surprises to me when I was writing them, and when working with an outline, the surprises are few and far-between.

For the Next Book, I wanted to try something a little looser, and maybe see if I could keep the surprises coming. Don't get me wrong, I've got some idea of the major beats of the story, and I know more or less how I expect it to end, but there's something about committing an outline to paper that seems to solidify the events in my mind. Writing off the cuff has certainly kept the book fresher for me thus far, and I figure if I don't know exactly how the story's going to unfold, it's a safe bet the reader won't either. And there's another benefit as well: I find I don't hold back as much. Rather than saving a big moment of suspense for later in the book, I try to write the biggest, baddest scene I can, and worry about topping it later. Of course, that strategy might bite me in the ass later, but thus far, it's been going okay. And it's nice to see that as I'm nearing the halfway-mark, there are still moments of discovery to be had.

The pain about not outlining is that you're forced to make a lot more decisions on the fly. That means breaking to research something as you write, which can slow the process considerably. Also, there's a chance I'm deluding myself on the whole not-outlining-as-strategy thing – I think all writers are sort of junkies for those moments where their characters surprise them, and I certainly get loads more surprises when I'm flying without a net. But I'm really liking the book so far, and I've got to believe that'll translate to the page.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to get back to.