Since my last post about plotting for pantsers, I’ve been travelling slowly and steadily along my well-planned and carefully built road (in case you didn’t already know, I love metaphors). I’ve been sticking to the map and taking no short cuts.
I’ve been polishing my writing as I go, not moving on until it was as perfect as I could get it. Maybe I’ll only need to write one more draft, I thought. This is the way to write a novel — why didn’t I do the other two like this?
And then I reached the first big turnoff, around 20K words in. Here, my characters started going wild — heading off in all sorts of unexpected sub-directions, doing stuff I hadn’t planned, picking up other characters along the way. I can’t write fast enough to keep up with them.
The writing’s rough, a lot of it in point-form; there are big gaps, blue place-holder text, and highlighting with notes in square brackets reminding me to ‘fix this later’. I’m working all over the shop now — on the middle at the same time as the ending, and then adding bits to the start, and here, there and everywhere — the ideas are coming at me from all directions. My manuscript looks like a complete dog’s breakfast. It’s going to need many more drafts.
E.L. Doctorow (also a fan of metaphors and similes) said: ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way’.
This is a dangerous place to be. You don’t want to break down out here, where you could lose control of your story and get hopelessly lost. I’m pretty sure it will be OK, though, because I still have my trusty map. I know which turnoffs to make and by when, and I know the final destination — none of these things change much, no matter what my characters do. [Doctorow also said: Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. Ahem …] However, what happens in between, I don’t really know. Sure, the process would be faster and less painstaking if I planned these in-between bits better. I would waste less time and make fewer mistakes exploring dead ends and characters that don’t make the final draft. But for me, the thrill is in the exploration of the unknown, the joy in the discovery of the unexpected, the magic in the unearthing of things I never thought I could imagine. This is the reason why I write.