MNC working habits

I’m wondering if I may need to pretend to be mrissa for the duration of this novel.

Now that I’ve got her attention, let me let me explain what I mean. That will take some rambling, so I’ll put it behind a cut.

Here’s how I write novels, based on seven data points’ worth of evidence: I start off with Characters in a bit of a Situation. I write some scenes that help me figure out that Situation, which result in Problems for the Characters. They attempt to deal with those Problems, which usually causes Complications, and so I play with the Complications, until I finally figure out how they’re going to deal with the whole mess, at which point we head toward a Resolution and Ending.

And I do it in that order.

I know where I’m starting, and I let that lead me onward. Sometimes I have ideas of things that will happen later on, but I make myself save those until I get to them. Didn’t always do that, but forcing myself to work chronologically was a big step in getting me to finish my first novel; when I wrote stuff out of order, it ended up weirdly disconnected, featuring cardboard cutouts of my characters rather than the people they had grown into being over the course of the preceeding story. Frequently I have no idea where this is going to end up, until I’m at the halfway point of the book, or even later.

mrissa is, by her own account, quite different. She writes very non-linearly, starting with Chapter Seventeen or whatever, and bounces back and forth like a ping-pong ball until she has a completed book. (Or at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten. mrissa, feel free to correct me.) And we’ve had discussions about how alien our respective processes are to each other.


I had hoped to get some writing done while in London, but the dearth of electrical outlets in my hostel meant I couldn’t leave things to charge while I wasn’t there to supervise them, and the only place I could comfortably park myself while charging things was in the lounge, where people were often watching TV. So I let it slide. But I did write a few things on the trip: the Tiresias scene I didn’t manage to get done before I left . . . and two other scenes.

One of them will probably fall around the 20-25K point in the book. The other will be around 50K. (Rough estimates. I mean one is hopefully going to be a little before the quarter-point, and the other at about halfway; the actually numbers assume a 100K book, which it may not be.)

In other words, I wrote ahead of where I am.

And why did I do that? Because the beginning of this book is giving me hives. I have an outline — yes, an honest-to-god outline — for most of the climax of the book in my notes; I’ve figured out pretty much everything except one detail that depends, not on the preceding plot, but on a bit of backstory I still need to work out. I have all of that, but I don’t know how I’m going to get Deven and Lune’s parts of the plot to talk to each other. I know what they’ll do once they are connected, but not how to get there. I could probably write the last ten thousand words or so this week, barring a few hurdles, and I know in broader outline what comes before that; the next ten thousand words are the ones I don’t know.

But I’ve long subscribed to the belief that it’s good for me to constrain myself to writing linearly. For one thing, see my above comment about the crap I produced when I wrote out of order. For another, going at it in order means I arrive at that later scene with all kinds of other tidbits I didn’t know I was going to pick up along the way: minor characters playing interesting side roles, parallels with earlier events, etc.

So I don’t know whether I should experiment with different working habits or not. On the one hand, I shouldn’t assume that every book needs the same approach I’ve always used, or even that my default approach will always be the same; on the other hand, experimenting with different techniques when writing a research-intensive and complex book under a moderately tight deadline might not be my brightest idea ever. (If it blows up in my face, I’m kind of screwed.)

I’m leaning toward what I hope might be a functional compromise. I’ve got a wordcount plan for the next three months that will allow me to complete the book by deadline unless it turns out to be substantially longer than expected (which would be a different problem anyway). I’m thinking that I may require myself to stick to that plan with my linear writing — but to give myself permission to write any future scenes I want to, so long as I’ve done the day’s quota.

Yes, this means extra work-per-day. But the extra would be stuff I’m writing because it won’t leave me alone, which makes it decidedly less work-like. And if any of it ends up not sucking when I get to that point in the linear approach, I can just slot it in, revised as necessary, thus saving myself some or all of that day’s work.

This may be a functional compromise. It may not. But I think I’ll give it a shot, just for the hell of it. I’m not quite ready to go the mrissa route all the way. (But Mris, if you’ve got any advice on how to make nonlinear writing turn out well, please share. I may need it.)

0 Responses to “MNC working habits”

  1. mrissa

    I swear I didn’t sneeze on you through the internet. It’s not a contagion. Really. I promise.


    But seriously, the compromise you’ve worked out sounds really workable to me: among other things, it allows you the space to chuck the later scenes you’ve written if it turns out that they’re not what you need when you get there.

    I don’t know how much my note-taking is a function of writing non-linearly and how much it’s just me being like that. But if something comes up in a scene I’m writing, and it isn’t in the stuff preceding it yet, I tend to add it into the rough, informal, outlinish creature, even if it’s just “Bob green hat” or something silly like that. So I will have two scenes and then “Bob green hat” on a line by itself with spaces surrounding it, and then another scene, and then “reveal Rosebud is Luke’s father’s sled” for the next bit that’s not done yet. Sometimes I will stick in a character like [ that I don’t use much otherwise, so I can search for those in the file.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve long had a habit, mostly in academic papers, of putting square brackets around things I need to deal with; it’s easy to search for them. I’m increasingly letting myself skip over minor hurdles in a scene by sticking in things like “[explanation of whatever Tormi's accused of doing]“, so I can chase the flow of the scene without getting bogged down in something I don’t really need to know this instant. But see above about how sometimes making myself stop and fill that in can make whatever follows richer and more detailed. So I try not to let myself do it too much.

      I also keep a separate file of notes, that includes ideas for future scenes or whatever, including (sometimes) particularly good lines that I don’t want to lose. That’s been my method for keeping hold of ideas until I get to that point in the narrative.

      But you hit the nail on the head about chucking things out: if I end up doing so, I haven’t set myself back on my wordcount goals, which is important given the deadline. That’s what I’d be worried about, if I really went at this out-of-order and found myself having to radically change anything based on earlier scenes written later.

      • mrissa

        I think you already know what you need to know to do this — it’ll be a matter of whether your brain goes like that or not, and you’ve got backup in case of not. So yay! Go book!

  2. gollumgollum

    Hey, if Midnight Never Comes, does that give us all the time in the world to stay up late discussing things, or does that mean we’ll never get there?

    Hmmmmmm. Deep thoughts.

    (Somehow, i think i need to blame oddsboy for that. I’m not sure why, though.)

      • gollumgollum

        Ask me to tell you sometime about the day my dad left me stranded on our front porch, trying to work through Xeno’s Paradox. (The halfway there one, not the arrow-in-flight-at-rest one.)

        At age nine.

        My dad is one of the greatest Tricksters i know. He’s so good at it that nobody realizes he is one. It’s rather astounding, actually.

        Um. Random tangent. Again, i blame oddsboy.

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