After you have slogged away long enough to have a manuscript’s worth of words, there are the revisions. I thought that banging out a lot of words was hard, and it was, but it was nothing compared to the difficulty of revising all those words into a coherent narrative that people will pay to read (still working on that last part, actually).
Again, if you want to be a writer, you need to be a reader. At this point in the production of your novel, your history as a reader will serve you well as it helps you assess whether your novel’s narrative structure holds together.
Note to you: unless you’re Joyce, or Nabokov, or even Pynchon, don’t assume that your unconventional narrative is a work of groundbreaking genius. It’s probably just constructed poorly. And even if you are a visionary, you should prove your skill by mastering traditional narrative structure before you start tweaking it. Even Joyce wrote Dubliners before he wrote Finnegans Wake. Nabokov wrote Lolita before Pale Fire.
Writers can be divided into two rough groups. Pantsers and Plotters. Pantsers sit down and crank out word count. They leave the outlining and organizing until later – the first wave of work on a book comes ina fevered rush to commit words to paper. If you’re a Pantser your initial round of sustained effort will most likely produce a lot of words, words that hew to a vague plotline. Your characters might be fleshed out, but your story arc will be messy or incomplete.
Revisions will involve wrestling your first draft until its outer manifestation resembles the internal vision that drove your creative fervor, then wrestling that draft until the language is clear, then maybe wrestling that draft until the characters and plot are compelling enough to make an agent or publisher – or in these days of successful online publishing, a whole bunch of readers – sit up and take notice.
I’m a Pantser, so I speak from experience. I’m going to have to guess about how Plotters do it, but I think they start with a detailed outline, including characterizations and a full story arc, then launch into the part where they generate the word count.
Either way, I think it’s a “pay now or pay later” proposition. If you frontload your work by outlining your story arc and making sure the characters fit in the way you want them to then you don’t have to do that part after you produce the first big pile of words. But you still have to do it and I am inclined to think that the amount of work is the same – it just happens at different phases of novel creation.
But from all of this, the most important piece you can take away is that to be a writer you must write.
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