So those of you who have been following my blog know that I’ve been commissioned to write a novel. Briefly, it’s for the Digital Fiction Publishing League, and it’s a mystery for kids, set on a Moon colony about a hundred years in the future. Think, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, but without the Moon being a penal colony.
I’ve set myself the goal of cranking out at least a thousand words a day. The last two days, I met that goal. Over the past two weeks, i really haven’t, but that has a lot to do with starting a new day job. I’m about 13,000 words in, or about 20-25% of the total, and halfway through Chapter 4.
And it is terrible. And I don’t care.
Make no mistake, the last two thousand words probably represent the worst writing I’ve done in some time. So why don’t I care? I’m going to turn to one of my virtual mentors, Steven Barnes. Steven Barnes has, through his online presence, taught me an immense amount about the value of completing work. He’s also the author of at least a dozen novels, some on his own and other with Larry Niven and the late Jerry Pournelle. Basically, you learn through producing bad work, and you then have bad work that can be revised. And I’m going to revise the hell out of this chapter.
Now, a younger, less-experienced me used to think this was a terrible waste of effort. I knew revision was necessary, because it’s possible to write crap without knowing you’re writing crap. Obviously, you have to reread and revise the crap you unwittingly produced. But if you know you’re writing crap, surely the best thing to do is slow down and not write crap in the first place. That’s very tempting, and it is wrong, wrong, wrong.
The problem with that idea is that it gets you so concentrated on the minutiae of orchestrating a scene, that it inhibits the flow so necessary to the production of a coherent story. It’s as if a runner was so obsessed with perfect form that he would never run any length of race until he got every step perfect. He’d never even make it a hundred yards. More importantly, he wouldn’t be developing that perfect form in conjunction with the endurance required to win an entire race.
Another analogy might be cooking. If you obsess over getting the proportion of ingredients just right, your meal may be overcooked before you can ever mix them all together. You must move forward, imperfectly, before you can approach perfection.
Right now, I care about getting through this first draft. Then I’ll work on making it perfect, and most importantly, I will have an “it” — however awful — to perfect.