Rediscovering Discovery Writing

So yesterday, I finished my 20th book. You’d think by now I’d know what the best book writing method is for me, but I’m still trying to figure it out.

The book I just finished is currently The Tales of Myrick the (Not So) Magnificent, Volume 4. It took me 6 weeks to write 62,500 words, so I was averaging 10k words a week, which isn’t bad considering I’d stopped writing back in February. I guess I was able to get right back on the horse and write at my old pace. I even held myself back to doing just one chapter a day because I have a lot of other projects to get to, like bathroom renovation (joy of joys). It will be at least a few months before I get the second draft done since I’m still trying to figure out what I should work on next.

What did I learn from this last book? That I’m still a ‘discovery writer’ or a ‘pantser’. What that means is that I write best when I’m just winging it. The other camp is the ‘outliners’, those who have to have everything planned well in advance before they start writing. Which is the better way? It depends on the individual. People have created great works of fiction both ways or a combination of the two.

My first book, The Dragon War Relic, began life as a NaNoWriMo project (National Novel Writing Month) and was 100% discovery written. I had a blast writing it, too. Each time I sat down to write, I had no idea what would happen next and just let my improvisatory mind create it as I went. It was as exciting as if I was the reader learning the mysteries of the story as it unfolded. I then did about 14 drafts of the book, having to completely restructure it to make it function. It took me about two years, but when I was done it got accepted and published by Cedar Fort.

After that, I tried to write sequels in the same way. They crashed and burned. Nothing came out of that period that was publishable. I then started learning about outlining and applying that to my writing. As my writing career developed, I soon was involved with writing serial stories for Big World Network. I had to fit my stories into 12 episode seasons which meant I needed to have some structure. I started doing more outlining. The method I found that worked the best for me was Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat because it was so simple, even a musician could understand it. I liked it because it still allowed me some improvisatory freedom.

I also worked on several other novels. Many of these will never see the light of day. Why? They seemed to lack ‘the spark’. I went into even more meticulous outlining, trying to determine what would happen in each chapter before I even sat down to write. I believe I do have some well-structured, functional stories, but they don’t excite me and I am not motivated to go back and fix them.

As I’ve mentioned before, last February I decided to quit writing. Part of it was I was having more demands on my time, more demands on my finances, and writing wasn’t as enjoyable. I was working on a sequel to A Sidekick’s Secrets to Saving the City and it just wasn’t working. I had everything plotted out in advance and I felt like I was punching a time clock whenever I wrote. I felt it was time to put my creative energies into my music instead.

But then other things happened. I got a massive leg infection and was bedridden for two months. I couldn’t even write during that time because the medications clouded my mind. Once I recovered, though, I still had leg problems and couldn’t spend a lot of time standing on it. Without really making a decision, I started writing again. I got the kernel of an idea for a fourth Myrick book and just went with it. And it was 100% discovery written just like the old days. And once again, I had a blast. I even, somehow, managed to structure it so that it can fit into the Big World Network system of three 12 episode seasons. The other things is, I feel like this story, once again, has ‘the spark’.

Discovery writing does have its disadvantages, the big one being that story structure often suffers and you have to spend a lot of extra time on rewrites. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that it is the method I need to rely on more for the way my brain works. I have to work through the story linearly. In the past, I’ve done something I’ve called ‘discovery outlining’, where I sat down and brainstormed an outline. Some of those stories have worked, but others I feel lost ‘the spark’ because I was too enslaved to the outline. This latest novel felt new and alive to me. So what if I have to do a little more rewriting, the story is better.

I still will create an outline for this book. I’ll do that as I read through the first draft. I’ll map out what happens in each chapter and use that as the starting point for my outline. That will enable me to see plot holes easier, as well as find where I need to improve the plot. All that reading on outlining can come in handy here in order to help me make sure I hit the points that every reader is looking for at least at a subconscious level.

But, the bottom line is, writing is fun again for me.

Dang it. Now I have to get back to my bathroom renovation.

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