Saturday, January 4, 2014

Flashnewb talks about writing

This music pairs nicely with the post
Man... New Years blog resolutions must be happening. There're posts everywhere in the OSR-o-sphere and they're quite good. Meanwhile, I'm just sitting here reposting crap from reddit.

Back in November of 2013 there was a discussion on the Game of Thrones subreddit about a Vanity Fair article in which Steamboat Captain Martin requests his fans leave him alone so he can write. In the discussion, user "Flashnewb" posted a fantastic writeup on the writing process. I like to read it sometimes when I'm feeling overwhelmed with all the vapor of my wares, and I figured you all might enjoy reading it too. Posting the full text here because as history demonstrates over and over again, only the reposts survive.


A little bit about writing books, from someone who has been trying for some time:

The ASOIAF books are huge. North of 100,000 words apiece. There might be specific word counts somewhere, I don't know. But they are longer even than your average fantasy book.

They are being written sequentially in series, which means the overall direction of the story needs to be tracked one way or another. He often talks about 'architect writers' and 'gardener writers'. An architect would keep track of the story with meticulous outlines and then write. A gardener begins writing and tries to connect it all as he goes. GRRM is a confessed gardener.

So you begin. Let's say you come out of the blocks at breakneck pace. 5 or 6 thousand words a day. In a month you have the first draft completed. So you let it rest. You have to let it rest. If you don't, you won't be able to objectively look at your work and determine what needs changing. After a good few weeks of forgetting all about it, you come back to it and read it.

Oh. Fuck.

70% of it is shit. 20% of it is salvageable. 5% is pretty good. 4% is great. 1% is gold dust.

Of all those parts, that 1% is the only stuff that makes it through as-is. The rest? Start again. Do it better. I don't care if you're a 30 novel veteran or someone just starting out, the process is the same. Go back. Start again. Go slower.

So you do all of that. Re-write the 70%. Re-jig the 20%. Tidy up that final 9%. This is a slow process. You need to figure out what's worth keeping and what needs tossing. Also, your manuscript is currently at 189,000 words which is way too long. You need to cut a bunch of non essential scenes. And oh FUCK. Most of the non essential stuff just so happens to be from that 9% you really liked. Too bad. Cut it.

You let it sit. Again. Then you come back to it with a red pen, and go through it like you're an English professor grading the paper of your most petty enemy. You strike out anything that sounds remotely bad. You flag parts for re-writing because they're stilted. Dozens of sections need re-writes. Whole plot strands are off track and bloated. Streamline. Fix. Go back to the start. Repeat. If you're lucky, at the end of this process, maybe half of what you have will make it to print as-is.

You keep this up until you're positive it is as good as it can possibly be. Then you give it to someone else, secretly proud of what you've done. You sit back and wait for the praise to flow back to you


They kiiiinda like it. But pages 120-240 are boring, they're utterly confused by several plot developments, they think your characters are following some majorly cliched archetypes and, by the way, this whole section with the pirate ship is a straight up rip off of Pirates of the Caribbean.


Back again. Repeat. Tidy. Re-write. Gut. Change. The story is now unrecognizable to you, but you can at least appreciate that it is better. For a book that's ultimately going to be about 130,000 words long, you have easily written in excess of 2 million words that will never see the printed page. Some of those cut words, by the way, are your favourite ones so far. But they didn't fit the pace or the tone, so they had to go.

Eventually, you manage to compromise and scrape your way to a finished book. It has taken years. Freakin'. YEARS. But there it is. 'A Game of Thrones' is on shelves. And whoa, people seem to really like it! You decide you better pretend that writing this fucking thing wasn't the most miserable and frustrating thing in the world, because people want to hear about how writing is a magical creative endeavor that just happens naturally. And really, for all the misery, it was also the most rewarding thing you've ever done. For a few weeks you revel in the happiness you have brought so many people.

Then you sit down and start typing book two. You're back where it all started. And there are five more to go after that.

Oh. Fuck. What the hell were you thinking?

A year later, you're just putting the finishing touches on draft one of book two. You decide to google your book to see what the fans are saying when you notice a post on a forum.

"Jeez, when does the next one come out?? I'm waiting over here!"

And you slump at the keyboard. It has already begun.


1 comment:

  1. I remember reading this on Reddit. It was a good essay.