Thursday, December 6, 2018

Don’t Go Changin’

Do you sometimes change your work habits, or is it better to keep things consistent?

From Jim

Until my current work in progress, I always followed the same four-stage routine. Reasearch, outlining, writing, and revision.

1. Research.
I love the reasearch stage. It’s an opportunity to learn lots of new things about the era (early 1960s). But it also gives me new ideas for the plot. A good example is the weather in Los Angeles in February 1962. By chance, as I was researching newspaper stories for CAST THE FIRST STONE, I discovered that Los Angeles was swamped by rain during the period my story takes place. I hadn’t planned on using weather in the book, but finding out how wet that month was gave me lots of ideas. The same thing happened for an eclipse in HEART OF STONE. I staged an eclipse party in the book.

The research usually runs parallel to the promotional activities of the previous book. Part of my time is devoted to writing blogs, arranging signings, and travel.

2. Outlining.
Here is where I diverged from usual practice on my work in progress. I had always outlined the story before starting the actual writing, but for once I launched into the project without a clear idea of where it was going. And I paid the price.

3. Writing.
Normally, once I’ve planned out my plot, I embark on a four-month sprint to complete the first draft. I budget for 800 words per day over 120 days. That gives me more than 100,000 words in little more than one season of the year. My current work in progress has taken six months, and it ain’t done yet...

4. Revision.
All the steps are important, but revision is where I make the book a book. Before my Ellie Stone mysteries are ready for the printer, I usually do five complete revisions. My publisher does another two. I haven’t started the revision process on my work in progress because—thanks to no outline—I haven’t finished the first draft yet. 

For my work in progress, I painted myself into a corner and had to go back twice to rewrite everything. It became a painful experience of jigsaw pieces. I changed the plot, switched characters, and even moved the dates of the story.

I expect I will get the book done and eventually be satisfied with it. But it will take twice the effort and frustration to get there.

So, as a result of this experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should never deviate from my usual process.


RJ Harlick said...

I envy you outliners. I would love to be able to complete a first draft in a matter of months. Instead I'm a pantser and invariably end up doing what you are doing now, taking twice as long to write the $&%! book. Good luck, Jim. But I'm sure this one will be as good as all your others

Susan C Shea said...

Jim, I know the pain of drifting - or rushing headlong - into the swamp and having to backtrack. I've only had to do it in a major way once, but I find a thousand tiny places, sometimes only a word to two in length, where a plot development that diverged has to be tweaked. Revisions, revisions, both the bane and the salvation of our books! Holding a good thought for your current wip!

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Robin and Susan! I’ll get there. Eventually...