The pressure’s on these days for writers to produce. Content is getting ever more transient – even print books, which occasionally gained a ‘long tail’ of years, now tend to dwindle after just a year or so. And the advent of e-publishing has produced a colossal market.
The reality of this brave new future boils down to hard work for writers – a lot of it. And that’s also brought home with challenges like National Novel Writing month – 50,000 words in four weeks. A challenge of pace even for experienced writers.
All of which is a great training ground for writing as a career – a world where authors have to be able to produce great material, to length, in time.
There is a conceit – certainly in academic communities in New Zealand – that ‘speed’ and ‘quality’ don’t go together. Indeed, the word ‘prolific’ is used as a put-down in these circles. It seems to be a given that if somebody is ‘prolific’ then their quality has to be questioned.
This is a classic false premise, of course. Different writers produce quality at different speeds – and in fact, speed and quality can be made to go together by any writer. It takes practise. A lot of practise. And in the race for quantity AND quality, the word processor is your friend. Exploit its strength – painless editing without re-typing. Now, I know there’s software out there designed to do more – Scrivener, for instance.
Personally I use a word processor like a typewriter anyway – all the planning is done on paper. There’s no absolute right or wrong. What counts, though, at the end of the day – are the final words.
My take is this:
1. Figure out the broad structure – for a novel, the plot points, character arcs, chapter divisions and so forth. If you feel comfortable, you could detail down to how the chapters are structured. This is one of the keys to getting quality quickly, because your story has got everything it needs in the right places. If you think of your book as a house, this is the foundation, wall and roof framing.
2. Now’s the time to populate that plan with words. And here’s the secret. If the first sentence doesn’t arrive, start with another further down, using the outline as a placement. Then backfill. This keeps the pace going. If you take the house analogy, this is putting up the wall-boarding, inner lining and roof. It’s handy to do that in sequence – but, if the frame’s correctly done and the pressure’s on to proceed, not always esssential.
3. This might well end up a bit patch-work, but it’s straight forward to polish the text. Back to housing again – this is the fit-out, painting and carpeting.
This process should work to any scale, from a short essay to a 90,000 word novel. Does this work for you? I’d love to hear from you.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013