Construction metaphors and different ways of writing

I tweeted this yesterday and some of the responses I got made me want to elaborate a little bit on what I meant.

The book I’m working on now is very different from every single other book I’ve ever written, but it is a bit more similar to some memoir-type stuff I’ve written. Not because the book is autobiographical but because it’s less about plot and more about character and experience.

I’m discovering that I’ll write a burst of new words, maybe 1,000 at a time, and they’ll feel insubstantial because they’re just dialogue, or they’re off-the-tip-of-the-tongue description. Those words will just roll out of me, not anchored to much, but rising up pretty quickly to fill the screen.

Once those words are on the screen, I go back to the scene over the next few days and flesh them out. The words don’t necessarily get deleted; they get expanded. A throwaway line of dialogue has to be teased out, the meaning and motivation behind the words discovered, and then that meaning and motivation described in some way. So when I say “scaffolding,” I guess my metaphor isn’t entirely accurate; it’s more like I’m framing out new construction. Later on I put up the walls, I paint them, I decorate the room, etc. (Since I know nothing about house-building except for what I see on HGTV I’m not surprised by my poor construction metaphor usage.)

However, sometimes those initial words are scaffolding — something to support the building of something else. And then when that something else is built, the scaffolding is removed.

Anyway, the reason this is interesting to me is because the process of writing my other books was quite different. Of course I went through and layered more meaning on scenes in revision, but I rarely did as much in the first draft. In my previous books, first drafts were about go-go-go, keep-moving-forward, because they were plot-heavy and the characters needed to get things done. I enjoy writing those kinds of books too, and honestly this book has felt a lot more like pulling teeth than anything else I’ve written, but right now I feel comfortable with this new process. That’ll probably change next week! (the writer says nervously, knocking wood)

I know that each book (and story) is written in a different way, but it’s still interesting (and oddly surprising!) to discover just how different each one is.

Originally posted on Tumblr