I’m Writing A Novel And Boy, Does It Suck. Here’s Why I Don’t Care.

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.

6 thoughts on “I’m Writing A Novel And Boy, Does It Suck. Here’s Why I Don’t Care.

  1. I imagine Barnes is better known for his Star Trek and similar writings, but I came to know him through his alternate histories: Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart. Nice to know that he’s also an inspirational writing coach. I was somewhat alarmed by your “I don’t care,” until I read the post. Kids deserve well-written books.

    • Kids do deserve well-written books. Hell, EVERYONE deserves well-written books, we just expect adults to do their own filtering! It took me a long while to discover that there was a kind of “caring” that was absolutely antithetical to good writing. Thanks for reading!

  2. Donald Maass says that there are two kinds of writers: those who outline and those whose first draft is their outline. He says both kinds can produce really good books.

    The secret for us writers is to discover what kind of writers we are and make the most of our strengths and weaknesses. If we edit better after a lousy first draft, then by Golly! that’s the way we should write!


  3. I’m in this space right now both in writing a novel and short stories (none of my fiction writing is published yet, but I’ve submitted one short story and several others are in various stages of creation). For me, it starts with just getting something finished, no matter how badly it sucks, then revising the heck out of it. Fortunately, I’ve got a couple of excellent (intelligent and brutally honest) beta readers who are willing to read my writing and offer up suggestions for improvements.

    Thanks for the link to Steven Barnes’s blog. Just “followed” him.

  4. Wise advice. I sometimes think we let our bad writing be a blockade to us, instead of a growing process. Writing is an art form, like painting, drawing, music, and dance. We have to develop it. The only way we can do that is by making mistakes. In this regard, we can learn a lot from babies growing into toddlers. They don’t let falling down stop them from learning to walk. Nor do they let garbled speech and gibberish prevent them from learning how to speak. Perhaps the latter is a more suitable analogy. As writers we may write gibberish when learning how to speak as a writer, but we shouldn’t let that stop us. Just as children learn how to be coherent in their self-expression, so can writers.

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