Scaffolding, Structuring, and Restructuring

Sometimes, you don’t always get things right on the first try.  Looking at everything I’ve written so far (this story officially began on Friday – Oct 2; I’m three weeks in!  I’ve written every single day consecutively for 21 days!  Wohoo!) I realized this morning that Chapter 3 isn’t going to work.  Beginning Ch. 3, I was already at a chapter word count of 3,776.  And since I try to contain each chapter to ~4,000 words, I knew that I’d need to wrap up Chapter 3 with today’s entry.

But looking at what I’d written, I see that it’s not possible– I didn’t leave myself enough runway to gracefully and believably wrap up the scene I’m currently in the middle of.  Oops.

Thus:  Today, I’ve decided to move 10/17 and 10/18’s story entries to their own miniature “Interstice One” section.  This frees up 528+452=980 words which I think then ought be enough to wrap up this current scene and Ch. 3.  Even when I was writing them, I always felt that those two entries were kinda different “on background” pieces anyway.  So this actually works out.

Before-Restructuring vs After-Restructuring.

Three weeks into writing this story using the TAG and “4,000-words-per-chapter” format has made me realize that imposing these arbitrary constraints on my writing has actually helped me become a more productive and creative writer.  Like, it’s weird.  Intuitively, you might think (or at least, I would’ve initially thought) that imposing constraints would “cramp my style” or somehow “hinder the writing process” but it’s been the exact opposite.  Previously, whenever I began writing a fiction work, I never finished because halfway through, I’d lose interest, get frustrated, and then abandon the project.  It’d always get to a point where I’d feel:  “What am I doing?  Where am I going?   Where am I?  What am I doing with my life?  Omg.”  And then I’d quit.

But this time around, with TAG and my meticulous spreadsheet-wordcount-tracker, it feels different.  Weirdly, it feels more like a coding project now.  I have wordcount milestones.  I have a sense of pacing.  I have a feeling of knowing where I need to go.  A roadmap, albeit, still nascent, is beginning to form and crystalize.  Characters are simply falling out of my brain and literally putting themselves on the page.  It’s like watching a plant or rain forest grow.

By the way, in programming, this practice of “restructuring” is common– so common, we even have a word for it:  “Refactoring.”  The simple truth is that even the all-time greats– the JKRs, Lev Grossmans, and Max Barrys of the world, aren’t able to write everything perfectly on their first try.  In fact, the only author I know who’s able to one-and-done entire novels in a single shot is John Scalzi when he wrote The Consuming Fire in two weeks.1

Anyway, my point today:  Most authors are unable to “get it right” on their very first try.  And thus, rewriting/restructuring/refactoring is important!  The story I’m working on now, is the first piece of long-form fiction that I’m just writing every day, entirely without an outline and without a plan.  Previously, I’d pour hours into brainstorming characters, worldbuilding, and coming up with all kinds of clever acronyms for shadowy, mysterious organizations that sounded cool.  There was even a period (years ago) that I bought an actual, real-life baby book and had fun just flipping through the thing, jotting down names that sounded alluring and nifty to me.

All those projects ultimately went nowhere and ended in complete failure.

So this time, I’m completely winging it.  No outline and no plan.  Just putting out 400 words a day and seeing where it all goes.  I am going to try to refrain from editing anything my first run though.  But I’m gonna consider today’s restructuring “a mulligan.”  Technically, I’m not writing anything new– but rather, I’m just relabeling some parts.

The adventure continues!  Here we go!  😀

  1. And you know what?  That book is awful.  I’m generally a Scalzi fan.  Agent to the Stars, Fuzzy Nation, Old Man’s War, and Redshirts (a Hugo winner!) are all wonderfully amusing and entertaining books.  OMW I actually even consider “sci-fi cannon,” right up there, maybe a notch or two, below Ender’s Game. But TCF was honestly just so bad.  I know it sold well and made all kinds of bestseller lists but Scalzi, IMHO, really phoned that one in and coasted on his reputation and good name.  TCF’s quality is genuinely lacking.  Scalzi wrote TCF in two weeks and it shows.  Very blatantly and extremely clearly.  I actually own TCF on my Kindle which I genuinely regret buying; it is one of the very few books that I’ve ever bought and not finished.  After that experience, I began just borrowing all subsequent Scalzi releases instead from my local library; I’d really felt burned. ☹️

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