Leave room for flexibility

Twenty-five weeks after the second day of the new year

One trait that the writers among you are required to have is flexibility of mind. But while you might readily accept the flexibility that comes with allowing your imagination to do its thing uninhibited, you should also be flexible in the way you do the actual work of turning its products into a published book.

When you start your first book, you have no idea how you will get from that first word you write to a published work. You’re not sure what steps you will be required to complete and how long it will take, and no matter how much you might have read about writing or about how other writers do things, the way you will go about it, your work process, will likely be different. It will depend on your story and what it needs to be properly written and then prepared for publishing, and it will depend on you, the way you do the work. And then there is, of course, the great unknown—you never know what you will encounter on the way, in your work, your life, your days, that you will need to deal with while still getting on with your writing tasks.

When you write your second book, you’ve already been through the writing and publication process once, and so this second work process is clearer. You’re that much more experienced, you know what steps need to be taken, and you might think that you’ve found your way of doing things. And so with your third book you might set out your work process in that same way. In fact, you might plan and schedule every task you know is required to get a book from writing to publication in the same order and details you’ve now been through twice, then set out on the path you’ve charted, prepared to follow it step by step.

Don’t bother. You haven’t finished learning, and you haven’t gotten to the writing-to-publication process that is yours yet. Yes, you’re more experienced, but that experience doesn’t help you chart a precise course for the way you write and prepare your next book, not yet. All it does is help you continue to change that course in an increasingly more knowledgeable, more conscious way.

And so in your third book you might well find yourself doing things differently again. You see, the thing is that you know yourself better and you know your writing better. You might not feel confident yet about how good a writer you are, and that’s fine, it takes time to gain that confidence. But you are more experienced, even if you don’t realize it yet, and that means that you will find yourself doing things in a different way than you thought. You might start as you have before, but the likelihood is that since by now you know your strong points, you will go through some tasks faster, and since you know your weak points, you will scrutinize other tasks more carefully, and therefore slowly. You might combine certain tasks, no longer having to do each separately, and break others down, knowing that this will benefit your story. In effect, you will be charting parts of your path from writing to publication differently that you had originally planned.

Author went through this, too, just so you know. She wrote The First, sent it to an editor, then went through the editor’s comments, reviewed the document again to complete details and consistencies, then reread, then repeated that process again (and several more again). Then she transferred the file from Word, in which she had done the work so far, to Indesign, which was completely new to her at the time (she’s told you about her work with Word and Indesign in her last post, so you know what she’s talking about), and in Indesign she prepared the book’s layout, typeset, reread and finalized. That was basically it, give or take several (okay, many) more rereads and finalizations. She was new at this, at bringing her story through writing to publication. New at it just like you.

With Oracle’s Hunt the process was more organized. Author went through all the steps she knew she should, those that worked for her with the first book—write draft, send to editor, go through editor comments, review and complete the story and details (more than one go through the still-forming manuscript, of course), then transfer to Indesign (much more familiar this time, glad to say) and then the page and book layout, typesetting, finalization, as many rereads as required. By the time this second book was published, Author came out feeling she now had a not-too-bad, far more established work process.

And she was so wrong. She set out to work on her next book for you so sure of what she was going to do, every task planned in her mind. Draft, editor, and…no. This is where things changed, straying from the work process she had charted for herself. She set out to work with the editor’s notes, and instead she found herself going through the draft herself, tearing it apart, finding things she hadn’t seen before she gained the experience she now has, adding details she had only decided on as she prepared this book’s predecessor, Oracle’s Hunt, for publication. Only then did she take the time to go through the editor’s comments, many of which were no longer relevant and others she found she had already put in herself. Experience, even the little she has, does that.

As you know—Author has, after all, been updating you on her work on her next book for you, her post seventeen weeks after the second day of the new year sums it up well—she now had a file full of her own comments and quite a few changes marked, and she could begin the work of building the body around the heart, making the manuscript whole. That’s where she is now, and she finds herself continuing to stray from the way she thought her work process would go. You see, author finds she isn’t working linearly this time. She isn’t going section by section, chapter by chapter. Instead, she is jumping between parts of the plot, settings or character layouts even where they are in different chapters, moving back and forth through the manuscript, no longer needing the security of steadily moving forward in the order the words are written on the screen before her. Not only that, she is seeing things she would only see in later rereads—a discrepancy, a sentence that might need a word replaced, something she has written that she isn’t entirely pleased with. It’s as if while in earlier books she would see with each reread different changes that needed to be made—a reread for plot consistencies, a reread for completion of details, a reread for typos and so forth—now she is able to see more things at once, combining several rereads into one.

Which makes Author wonder what’s next. So far she has strayed from the work process she had set out for herself in almost every way. So what will she do differently next? And what does that say about planning how to do things in her next book? Frankly, after this time around, Author thinks she’ll simply allow herself to learn, exclude rigidity from the equation. At least for another book or two, and then she’ll see. There is, after all, no hurry to finalize a work process, no hurry to set limits.

This week’s tip from Author and Sister for the new writers among you, in the midst of yet another revelation of how the work process Author has set out for herself is, to say it politely, no good: be flexible so that you won’t stand in your own way. Be flexible so that you can do your work in the way that it is best for it to be done. And be flexible because it’s perfectly okay to change how you work until you get to where you do things in the way that suits you best.


A quote from Author and Sister's post about flexibiloity

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