The Discovery Writer VS Chapter One

Hi there, and welcome to 2017. I know I’m a little late with that greeting, but I’ve been hanging back, trying to make sure I had some great news for an update.

And I do . . . kind of.

Maybe this has happened to you, maybe it hasn’t. If it’s the latter, I hope it never does.

But, since NaNoWriMo 2016, I’ve been engaged in mortal combat with the first few chapters of my novel. Allow me to explain.

And, because it sounds like this story is going to have a bad ending, let me just say that the novel I’ve been working on is really coming along . . . now, at least.

The road to now started with NaNoWriMo 2016, when I decided to write The Hand and the Tempest, a YA fantasy novel that I originally thought of when I was YA aged. In high school, I came up with the main character, the hook, and the arc of the story, which I reworked about two years ago to make a viable novel.

Off the bat, I struggled with it, despite knowing the characters, the plot, and the tone.

During NaNoWriMo, I thought that maybe it was because I always struggle with the first few chapters of my novels, but that didn’t really help me get past the struggling part.

I had to know why I always struggled with my first chapters.

And, in January, on my way to a Barnes and Noble, reading a Facebook post from Brandon Sanderson, I realized why.

I’m a discovery writer.

Of course!

So, hear me out: being a discovery writer, even to my degree (meaning that I have a plot structure but give my characters a lot of freedom to live in that structure) means that the first chapters of my work . . .

. . . are absolute hell.

They are the parts of the book where I know the least about everything–the characters, the setting, you name it.

With my last novel, Memory, that wasn’t as much of a problem . . . because I hadn’t edited Memory yet. I just went in, heart a-blazin’, and wrote everything that was cool. Of course, I also made sure Memory wasn’t action-filled nonsense.

But, despite my efforts, the first chapter of Memory still wound up being a huge problem. Actually, it’s the problem; all I need to do is finish fixing the intro and I can start submitting that novel.

But, what matters for this post is, the first chapter of Memory wound up being a total mess because I was discovery writing a new novel–from the heart. I went with an intro that seemed cool and then slowly wrote myself out of a world where that intro made sense.

That is something that I reflexively never want to do again.

So, when it came to The Hand and the Tempest, I was approaching it with kid gloves without even realizing it. I was leaving a bunch of details up to future me, trying to make sure that the intro made sense.

And that was really driving me crazy. Because I was trying to make sure two chapters made sense in the context of a world that I wasn’t letting myself create.

In January, after finding that Facebook post and having this revelation, I went back and took my time with the first chapter, filling in all of the placeholder names for towns and characters. I gave myself the time to invent things instead of pressuring myself to get it done.

And, letting myself do all of that–create minor details that I didn’t think mattered–made me feel more comfortable and secure in the world I was creating.

And that absolutely turned the novel around for me. After months of going back and forth between being excited about HatT and being worried about it, I finally feel free and secure about writing it.

Unfortunately, that means I’m only up to chapter 4, because I wound up deleting a lot of what I’d already written. But, the good thing is that I’m still doing it.

And I’m excited to do it. Because, in the backwards way of writers, I’m glad I went through the mess of the last two months if it means that I at least know more about my process and how to improve it.

Granted, this has boiled down to me writing at a solid rate of 50% heart and 50% brain–which means that I often write five pages, stare off into space, delete those five pages, and then write five more pages that I keep (as I absolutely did yesterday)–but being able to perfectly balance those two approaches to writing is what I’m aspiring to regardless.

As I discovered during last year’s NaNoWriMo, every bit of progress counts. Every moment of struggle leads to one moment of success.

~~~

Thanks for reading and I hope some of you out there were at least able to commiserate with this one. If it helped you out, that’d be amazing, but even if it didn’t, thanks for passing by.

And, as always, write well.

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