Lately writing feels more and more like a job. I get up, get my coffee, and sit down to do my job that I know how to do. It feels weird. It's new. I used to just wake up and start writing. You know, gleefully banging at the keys, hoping I know what I'm doing. Now it's different.
I plot every scene ahead of time, I read a chapter from a book on plotting, I decide on the conflict, on the scene goal, on the scene conflict, on the scene disaster, then I read my notes from the previous day, then I read an example of prose I like to emulate, then I plan out the scene (and all its turns and emotional shifts) in an Excel spreadsheet, and only after all of this do I begin writing. Which doesn't quite look like writing anymore, either. It's mostly thinking and speaking aloud one line until I get it right. It can take up to 30 times for me to repeat it. With dialogue it can take up to 50. So at the end of my new writing day I end up with 300-800 words, tops. On rare days (like today) I can get to 1,200. But the number of words no longer matters. What matters is, did I stay on track? Did the scene question get answered? Did every character play their role? Did the scene and the way the characters behaved fit into the act and into the overall story? So it's really like math, or like engineering.
Don't think I don't feel things and write like a robot. Far from it. I cry and rage and laugh and cringe as usual. But now I'm freed up from anxiety of having to wonder if I will hit the nail on the head. It's much easier to fix things that don't sound right. I have craft tools at my disposal to use to detect the problem. It's nothing short of amazing. I think TUBE will be my best writing yet, and The Dacha Murders will be even better.
In light of this change, as you've seen me rant on shiny internets, you asked how different it is, this new writing process, and how and why it changed, and what impact it had on my productivity and output. I shall use this post to answer your questions, and more.
"Is it increasing your productivity?"
Yes and no. It had decreased my daily word count (something I swore by in the past), but it has increased the quality of the words I'm putting down. There is much less to fix, and the scene structure is so clear, I can even fuck around with it a bit and have fun. In the past writing was associated with pain. Now it's fun? Definitely an improvement.
"Have you seen a positive change in your output?"
The most positive thing is, the knowledge that I know where I'm going and the fact that I know how to get there. Of course, I'm far from knowing it well, but I know enough to stop freaking out and instead focus on getting there. I would say, the whole thing feels more precise. Compared to how chaotic it felt years ago, it's a positive change. Very positive.
This will be for you, my readers, to judge, but I'll tell you what Royce has noticed. I read to him what I write every night, and he had noticed that I stopped squirming and swallowing words and feeling shy and am now reading with confidence. "There is thankfully no more writing in this," I explained to him, "to be ashamed of. Now it's just pure story, and I'm not afraid to read it aloud anymore." So there you go. This alone is worth gold.
"Do you find it more productive than just weeding out a spontaneously written piece?"
Yes! Oh, so very much. I used to plow through fields of mud, plunging my arms deep down into the swirling, bubbling liquid, snatching out bits and pieces and raising them to my nose and sniffing them and turning them this way and that, trying to figure out how the fuck to fit them all together into some kind of a coherent whole. Now I sit on a nice sandy beach and make castles exactly the shape and size and structure I want, and if I don't want them, I flatten them and start from scratch. It's still hard, but it's not as excruciatingly laborious as it used to be. Now it's more engineering than searching, constructing than gathering, neatly fitting together than slamming one thing on top of another, hoping they won't topple.
So you see, this sounds like bliss. Just today I rewrote a scene where I had too many characters doing too many things without a clear scene goal for any of them. I cut it all out. I wrote down the scene goal. I had my character declare it. Then I had her antagonist declare the opposite goal. Then I had them start the conflict. Then I had the conflict escalate by introducing a turn in their fighting tactics at every 3-4 lines of dialogue. Then I did one final turn for the climax, and then I wound the scene down and wrote a brief transition into the next scene (which happens to be vodka, of all things). So tomorrow I know exactly where to start from (a bottle of vodka), and where to go (not going to spoil it for you), and how to end it (you can imagine, right?). Voila!
Thanks to my writing mentor who over the last several years relentlessly advised me to plot and shook his head every time I told him (proudly, by the way) of my rewriting sufferings. "Oh, Ksenia!" He'd throw up his hands. "You don't have to do this. Why do you make yourself suffer so much?" Thank God I finally listened to him and stopped. Plotting all the way.
P.S.: Because you asked, next post will be on finding a writing mentor, working with one, and so on. Get ready.