I'm very close to the end of the first — well, second, more on that in a sec — draft of Fall Of The Hammer. I say "first/second" because I started it earlier this year, got about two-thirds of the way through, stopped, wound back to the beginning, and started rewriting it as if it was a second draft. This is not a common pattern for me; the vast majority of the time I just blast all the way through and then fix it to avoid disrupting momentum. But a funny thing happened on the way to Act Five.
When I first started writing novels, I planned ahead about as much as the guy who goes to the fair and just wanders from booth to booth. I'd get an idea in mind, spend the first third or so of the book wandering around inside it, take the next third to develop all of the complications that arose, and then spend the last third closing them off. It wasn't the worst way to do it, but it often involved a struggle I unthinkingly repeated next time out without learning from.
What smashed all this was not some initial revelation on my part about how clumsy the whole process was. Okay, it was a revelation, but it only came by way of breaking my shins on the problem — "education through pain", as the term goes. While organizing Flight Of The Vajra, a book of far greater dimension and ambition than anything I tried before, it took me a couple of failed attempts at getting all the cows into the barn before realizing I needed a new process. It wasn't just going from writing everything down as flat files to using a wiki to organize all the moving parts. It also meant for the first time I actually had to outline a story instead of make the whole thing up as I went along. My head just wasn't big enough to hold the whole thing at once, and there was no shame in recognizing that. Even Dostoevsky took notes.
I came out the other side of that book with a newfound appreciation for planning ahead. The next two books (Welcome To The Fold and Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned) benefited from the same kind of planning ahead and top-down organization. I tore into Fall Of The Hammer with the same expectations.
And busted my shins.
The problem was a variant on something I'd experienced before, many times — the way a story changes when you're down at street level with it, instead of planning it from your airplane seat 35,000 feet up. Certain things shifted so much during the first draft that I couldn't simply plow through the rest of the draft under those new assumptions. I had to go back, or I would be fighting against the terrible odds of internal inconsistency — and that's bad even on the draft level.
The whole revision process took about a month, but it was well worth the effort. I got to swap out an opening that I knew didn't work for a much stronger, more intimate one. I cleaned up a lot of other things that weren't worth pushing off until the next draft. There's still plenty to be done, but at least now those things aren't going to be done with me wearing weights around my ankles.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind