Reflections on the 7th Novel

howard in chair

Me with just a little less gray than I have these days.

I turned over my fourth Pathfinder novel this week. It’s a little strange thinking that it won’t see the light of day until two years from now. By then my daughter will be a junior in high school and my son will be a sophomore in college. Sometimes I think time would feel less like it proceeds at such a breakneck pace if I didn’t constantly have my children changing to show me. My wife and I don’t feel particularly different than we felt two years ago (although I do have more gray) and with luck we won’t feel too different in two more years.

But as to my main point, I turned over my fourth Pathfinder novel, and I’m going to take a moment and talk about the writing of it. Never have I written so fast and so well at the same time, and I’m going to chalk it up to my new outlining process (and here’s a follow-up post showing it in action). I’ve gotten more and more comfortable using that process and know better and better how to write, thank the muses. From first draft to third took almost precisely three months, even with a one week hiatus for GenCon and another week’s hiatus after I finished the second draft to work on the outline for novel 8.

It may sound as though I’m bragging, but I’m in competition with no one but myself. Short of being on the bestseller list — something I’m still hoping all of you will assist me with — the only way to make a living in this business is to find a way to write more quickly, and through a lot of effort and experimentation I seem to have done it. Back in August of 2013 I mentioned that I’ve never been one of those writers who could get the book mostly right on the first draft and then used the next draft or two to get it polished, but I hoped that I might become one with this method. And so I have. I’ve been striving to improve my time and my skill, sort of like a marathon runner. The fact that the writing itself seems to be growing more nuanced pleases me, although I can’t shake that secret fear so many of us writers have, that the work’s not really very good at all. Someone’s always ready to tell you that, of course, so I try not to be one of them too often. I suppose if I ever shook that fear completely I’d just be another arrogant, self-entitled artiste, but then maybe a little sliver of that is in most of us as well.

hulk thinkFor the rest of the week I’ll probably be working on the keynote address I’m giving near Chicago for the Dekalb Public Library’s Big Read. When I return from that I’ll make a quick pass on the first Paizo novel of the summer (novel number 6) to change some things necessitated by novel 7 and then start another pass on novel number 5, the so-called Hearthstones novel, while I continue to whip its sequel’s outline into shape.

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, it feels as though I’m learning some tricks about pacing and trusting my judgment and most-of-all character motivation that I’m not sure I personally could have picked up without a whole lot of practice. If I COULD tell younger me some of what I now do, I’d say what I tell younger writers — know what every character wants before you start writing the scene. Know who your villain is and what they want. Know your characters.

Here again are my writing mistakes posts (the first one, and the follow-up that explains some of the mistakes in more detail).

These are MY mistakes. I offer them in the hope that my explaining them might help you. But it’s possible you have your own different mistakes in which case this won’t aid you at all. Sorry about that.

Now I will sign off and get to finishing that speech. Hope to see some of you west of Chicago in a few days.

4 Comments on “Reflections on the 7th Novel

  1. “Although I do have more gray.”

    Better more gray than more shine (goes off to polish bald spot).

    And congratulations on turning in another novel.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Howard. I’m still having a bear of a time with outlines and deadlines, so I’m going to dig deep into your posts once I get the current WIP done. It’s gotten to the point that I know I need to do something different, and knowing you managed it gives me some hope.

    • My pleasure, Doug. I don’t know if my methods will work for you, but any time you want to talk about it, drop me a line. Maybe some of what I’ve learned will be of use for you.

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