It was suggested that among things of interest to readers I might post in my week of guest blogging would be out-takes, discarded bits and pieces of the recent book that would show my writing process at work. Now, there are as many processes as there are writers, but mine doesn’t leave much on the cutting room floor readable by any eyes other than mine (and sometimes not even by mine -- what word was that penciled squiggle intended to be...?), because most of my structural revision takes place at the outline stage, which is ornate and multi-layered, more resembling thinking out loud on paper than anything else. After the first draft goes onto the page, revisions, for me, tend to be a line here, a paragraph there, partial re-tooling of a scene, but very seldom wholesale slaughter of bad ideas that didn’t grind to a halt quite fast enough. This is not only because my prose sets up like concrete and I have to revise with a jackhammer, and I hates it, Precious, although there’s an element of that, too.
I do not outline in the sense of sitting down one day and sketching out the whole novel entire. My head would explode. I keep notes, in pencil in a 3-ring binder, as much as a memory aid as anything, and they are quite disorganized, being mainly jottings of things as they occur to me -- notes on the characters, setting, plot, research, whatever. I collect these over days and weeks, write a scene or a chapter, and then go back to the pre-writing brooding; lather, rinse, repeat -- a rolling outline, in other words. A certain number of the Things That Won’t Work get identified and jettisoned at this stage, as I push them around on the page with my pencil and look at them.
I find making it up and writing it down to be two distinct phases for me, with different head-zones. Creation happens most readily when I’m relaxed, or doing something that takes little attention -- taking a walk, doing routine chores. The writing part is more intense and concentrated, but at the stage where I finally sit down at the computer, it’s more like transcribing the outline (which is messy, in pencil on lined notebook paper, with things crossed out and lines and arrows all over it), heavily editing on the fly. I hold each short unit, usually a scene, in my head till I have it pinned to the page. Only then is room left in my head to assemble the next bit.
The other reason I have few discarded passages is what I’ve come to dub “Writer’s block -- your friend.” This is not real writer’s block, which is a species of depression that can be very debilitating and long-lasting, but more like “being stuck for a bit”. Sometimes, very confusingly to myself, I’ll even have a partial outline of the proposed next section that looks quite convincing, but whatever it is in the back of my brain that occasionally deigns to disgorge prose refuses to engage. Once I’ve eliminated all the other possibilities -- external distractions, letting my health-and-fitness routine lapse, whatever -- I not-infrequently find I was trying to write the wrong thing. Wrong viewpoint, wrong turn of events, something that, when I look back from the end of the novel, is clear in retrospect (but not at the time) as something that would have shifted the book in a whole ‘nother direction. I’ve learned to listen to my own creative silences; sometimes, they’re trying to tell me something important. Like, “Don’t do that, it’s wrong.”
I have an example of this not from Beguilement, but from its second half, Legacy, due out next July. Simplifying to avoid spoilers, at one point I had thought my hero Dag’s grandfather was going to be a major character, and had sketched out quite a bit about him and the part I intended him to play, in notes. Dead halt, when I came to the scene where he would have been introduced. I even had it outlined. It took me, as I recall, some days or weeks of fretting to realize he didn’t belong in the book at all, and the part I had intended him to play was much better carried out by another character. Rather a lot of notebook paper got big Xs drawn across them at that point. Poor fellow, slain before he even made it to the first draft.
-- Lois McMaster Bujold