This week I’m taking a break from writing Jesse (working title of my novel-in-progress) to do some brainstorming, scene-scaping, and plotting out in more detail of the last two-thirds of the story.

I’ve never taken a novel that was only one-third written and plotted it out, scene-by-scene, all the way to the end, but I feel the need to do so this time around. My usual method is to keep a sketchy outline, which I  expand into a more detailed scene-by-scene outline–but only a chapter or two ahead of where I’m writing.

That is, when I write a novel linearly (from Chapter 1 straight through to The End). I’ve been known to jump around and write a novel in out-of-order chunks. Doubtful if I’ll ever write one that way again though.

During my recovery from chemo fog, when I was retraining myself to write, writing whatever scene I could see clearly, no matter where it might happen to fit in the overall story, was what I had to do to keep myself engaged in the process of coming to the computer every day, to beat down resistance and keep my spirits up. It worked very well. I did finish that novel, and called it Kindred. But the first draft came in at a whopping 325,000 words.

After a lot of sweat and tears, it’s a much slimmer 126,000. Most of the excess that needed trimming came from the fact that writing it out of sequence, I never knew in any given scene what might prove important later, and what wouldn’t, so I chocked those scenes full of anything and everything that seemed interesting or relevant. For me, writing in chunks without an outline equaled an extremely overwritten manuscript lacking in focus, until I began hacking back that excess, with a great deal of help.

While it enabled me to write again after a long frustrating dry season, that sort of editing is not a job I ever want to tackle again. Hence the plotting. My guess is that in the long run I’ll have much less anxiety during the first draft writing process than I’m prone to have when I can’t see as clearly where I’m headed with the story, and hanging over me like a sword is the knowledge that there’s a word count cap publishers prefer an author heed, but that I’m liable to blow past and leave in the dust if I give myself too much freedom in the first draft.

Many authors will advise new writers not to edit themselves in the first draft, to give themselves freedom. I see the wisdom in that in most cases. But for me? It leads to excess, and more work and worry later. I think I’m going to have to be a plotter, unless I want to take five years to write each book, which is how long Kindred took me to write and then cut back into a publishable form. The book I wrote after that, which I plotted quite a bit more and wrote linearly, took eighteen months and came in at just under 130,000, which I then cut back closer to 120,000.

Jesse, I’m hoping, will take me less than a year. I began writing it on February 8th with a more detailed outline than I’d ever started with before, and by May 8th had written a third of the story. If I can keep up the same pace, I’ll have the first draft written in nine months. That would be very very cool. But a year is my goal.

I wonder if anyone else has experienced a morphing of their writing process over time. I’ve had twenty years and a shot of chemotherapy in the middle of things to change how my brain works out this complex process of novel writing. Anyone else find themselves changing from a plotter to a non-plotter (a seat-of-the-pantser), or vice versa?

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