Writing is messy.
Let me rephrase that; my writing is messy.
I suppose most writers feel this way. If your writing is clean the first time through, then something is probably wrong, or you’re a Mozart-ian prodigy or something.
When I was writing Be a Hobbit, I ran into a stage in the writing process where I had a substantial amount of stuff written, and it was in a kind of organized state, but I knew there was stuff missing there: cracks that needed filling, if you will.
This happens as you run out of topics to write about, chapter titles basically. I had a lot of what I needed to say, blocked out in an outline on Scrivener, so I could see where I was going to go from chapter to chapter. I didn’t write it all in sequence, mind you; I wrote whatever I felt I was ready to write, each morning.
Sometimes I didn’t feel particularly inspired to write anything in particular, so I just picked a section, looked at the title, and pulled the trigger! I just started to write, anything. After a minute or so, the words would start to head in the right direction. I’m doing this right now, actually, as I write this article.
Today, I’m in the middle of writing The End of Fear Itself, and it’s coming along faster now, but I am running out of chapter sections to write, though lately the ideas have been flowing pretty well. But I can see that soon, in the next week probably, I’m gonna fill in the ideas that I’ve already blocked out, and then I’ll be stuck.
This is natural, I’m sure. I know it happened to me during Be a Hobbit, so I’m sure it happens to book writers all the time.
The solution to this block is simple; I read.
Once I get to that road block, I stop writing on that particular project. I don’t stop writing completely; I just write about other things. In fact, that’s what I’m doing right now. That process is beginning with this article. I’m writing on a different topic right here: the topic about writing about another topic when your main topic or project gets to a road block.
How’s that for picture in picture?
While I’m writing on other topics, like this one, I go back to the manuscript, the book, and read through the entire thing: start to finish. Next to me is my legal pad and my trusty pen. As I read through, I make notes on the pad about what is missing: things I need to write about that I haven’t touched yet. I also note chapters and sections that need to be fleshed out more. I do this in the order they are currently arranged.
Since this is the 21st Century, and it’s not an actual, paper manuscript, or vellum or papyrus, I also make notes in Scrivener, in the document itself, as I go. I don’t just write it on the pad. I will make a note on the pad, for instance, that says, “Add chapter on Fear of High Heeled Shoes,”—which isn’t a real chapter I don’t think, but it was the first thing that came to mind, so you know where my mind is this morning—and then I actually create that chapter document within Scrivener, in the book document itself.
You can do this in whatever program you’re using, of course. Just create a new page, or whatever, with that title and leave it blank for now. It just becomes a marker that you can come back to and write later. By having the title and blank page, if I get stuck one morning on what to write, I can just pick one of the blank pages, and start typing until the idea comes and I’m off to the races!
Filling in the Cracks
I will also note other things during this pass through the manuscript. I’ll note down any ideas the come to mind on chapters and sections that I’ve already written: filling in the cracks, in other words. I note them on my pad, and in the document itself.
In the document, I do this in ALL CAPS, so that when I’m skimming through, looking for them, I’ll see them easily, and I can just jump in and start writing at that point. It’s like skimming over a wall, looking for cracks or nail holes to fill in with Spackle, or toothpaste, or pancake mix, whatever you have at the moment.
I also look for general flow through the book. Is the outline, the organization of the book logical. Does one chapter flow to the next, one part of the book to the next part? If not, I note that down on my pad, too.
I do this, because I know that it doesn’t. Inevitably, when I get to this point in a larger work—and I’ve only published one other large work—I come to a tangle in the organization, what I call a Gordian Knot, where the flow is really fucked up. I talked about that phenomenon in Part 8, Pen & Sword: What to Do with Gordian Knots.
For now, I just note that there’s a problem with the flow, and move on. I don’t want to get caught up in trying to untangle knots at this point, just note them down to work on soon.
If I see an easy fix—a section that can just be picked up and dropped into a more logical place—I’ll do it right then.
This can be done easily in Scrivener, which is why I love the software. And you can see the entire project laid out ont he left side of the screen. This makes editing the structure of the book, way easier. Click the link for a free trial version of Scrivener.
Once I’ve gone through the entire manuscript and made my notes, both on the pad, and in the document itself, I’m ready to start on the second draft of the book. The next day, when I sit down to write, I just look at my notes to see where to start. I don’t have to start at the beginning of the book, necessarily—and most of the time I don’t work that way—but I can if I want.
What I do, however, is to make sure to strike through the those sections on my legal pad, once I’ve accomplished the task. This is just checking off things on a list. A very big list, mind you, but a list nonetheless. Once this is done, the second draft is done.
It may be that if there is a huge knot to unravel, the second draft comes to a halt, and I have to tackle it before I can move ahead. I actually see that looming in The End of Fear Itself.
This is the basic plan for getting into and through the second draft of a book. At least it’s the way I do it. It’s methodical, which is what is needed at this point in a project.
Just a note for you writers out there: If you run into problems, or have a question, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or comment here. Email is faster. I love to help people. Really, I do.