Balancing Learning: Writing versus Studying Writing

sandersonplot 007Since 2009, I have started eight novels and two novellas. I have finished drafts of five of them. Three I will never look at again (not to edit or salvage, anyway — maybe to learn from them).

In terms of major re-writes and edits, I’ve only two experiences.

Seven Sisters was a “rewrite” of my first NaNoWriMo attempt, which ended up only having two characters present in both. It essentially became a sequel; and it was better because in those 9 months between ending one and beginning the rewrite, I read a lot of “how to write” articles.

The second experience is of Planes Shifter.

A book that began with a girl on a horse in a village in March 2012. Today, she’s walking through a city during a civil war. The book has had four names. Since completing the first draft in a hurry in October 2012; I think the story has had four main plot re-writes. I wrote the sequel, which meant changing things in the first one. Then, as I got to the end of that change (rewrite 1), it illuminated massive plot holes. Rewrite 2 occurred, and then I read it through – which I’m slowly editing/fixing problems with while it’s beta-read.

In a way, this is rewrite 3, or major plot reconstruction 4.

Why is this latest change so big? Because this year I managed to read again (more on this in another post). Partly this is a process of “oh that makes sense, and shows me a key problem with my novel.” Yet, partly, it’s a “Wow that’s cool – I could do a similar twist in my novel, except using A and having B do it with his X power.”

I’ve been watching Brandon Sanderson’s classes online for the past year or so. I watched the 2012 and then the 2013 classes. On Friday I did two things – I discovered some of the 2014 lectures are up, and I began reading  the first book of the Mistborn series – The Final Empire (by Brandon Sanderson – review to come).

I read the whole book over this weekend, with his 6 lectures from this year on as background noise. On occasion, I wrote a quick note or “bookmarked” a page on my kindle. Having finished reading it today, I’m now properly watching the videos, trying to apply what he’s saying in his lessons to his book.

And from that, I learnt so much this weekend about my writing. I realised that I have developed a voice – something I think every writer worries about at first. I saw how he melded more than one thing into a scene: so each scene did two or three things to move things forward or foreshadow later events.

Most importantly, I was able to see how he plots, which I then mimicked in order to test Planes Shifter.

And there, my problem sat in the newly-shed light. 

My 100,000 word Sword and Sorcery first-book-in-a-series introduces ALL 18 of the series subplots in the first book. Most of them (in fact, 16 of 18) are introduced in the first half. It’s overwhelming and it feels completely chaotic and unrelated. I have done the “this is SO COOL” without working out the PACING of these elements. They do all come together and link; but that happens (or needs to happen) across three books – not one.

So I need to pick and choose – I can introduce half of those elements in book 2. In fact, I think having 4 in book one would be enough. 3 that resolve, 1 that doesn’t and maybe even introduce a 5th one near the end to tie in with the sequel. And actually, I should probably pare it down a little; even for the series. Because I know as I read other stories and work through the edit of book two; I’ll find new threads.

One day maybe I could make 10 of those elements weave together beautifully in one book. I’d like to be able to work through a block like this and write an epic with all these elements nicely bracketed together. But I’m not yet at that place, and after another small segment of studying what’s wrong, I’m reading to work on practising my pacing through doing again. By re-writing with pacing in mind.

Last year I felt I was reading about writing too much – and my novel was sitting there, waiting for me to come back to it – by which time I’d likely forget what I’d learned. Now, I’ve come the other way — focusing so much on edits of this story that I stopped reading, left my “how to edit” books aside, and now I’m paying the price of not at least vaguely checking that I’m meeting my promises, or even coherently joining my ideas together in a way that people can follow.

And I know this won’t change overnight – I’m going to struggle to balance the studying and the doing ~ but each amalgamation of learning will allow me to plot my next story with many less issues (at least that’s the hope).

How have you balanced theory from practise?

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2 responses to “Balancing Learning: Writing versus Studying Writing

  1. It’s great to read about your learning process and how it inspires you to get on with the writing and editing. I don’t think I have yet found a way to balance theory and practice; I’m not great at focusing on more than one thing at a time, so often I feel overwhelmed by the intricacies of pacing, characterisation, plot development and descriptive writing all at once. But I feel I need a good overview of these before I can really understand if my voice shines through.
    Thanks for sharing – it’s great to read about another writer’s process and how you tackle similar issues.
    Good luck with it 😉 You sound like you have it under control though.

    • There’s so much to it, isn’t there? I think of all the people who say “i’d like to write a book” and there’s always a small voice now that goes “no you wouldn’t — you have to unconsciously known a million new things”. It can be really overwhelming.

      I hope I have it at least half under control… Depends what time of day I’m asked,
      Thanks for commenting and the luck :).

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