Writers: The light at the end of the tunnel

I call them “go-backs” and “read-throughs.” They are the mechanisms that keep up my momentum when I’m writing a novel.

I know dozens of writers who start novels and don’t finish them. It’s such a damn tough process! You slog and you slog with no light at the end of the tunnel.

So my personal method to avoid that – and I’ll be the first to tell you: this trick works for me and won’t necessarily work for you – is go-backs and read-throughs.

Here’s how it works.

I write approximately 10 pages, then stop, go back, and read those 10 pages. Once. If the scenes are great, I do the happy dance. If they’re OK, I shrug and say, “well, so far so good.” If they suck, I throw them out.

Let’s say they’re OK-to-great. If that’s the case, I write the next 10 pages, stop, and read all 20. If I’m still satisfied that I’m more or less on the right path, I write 10 more, stop, and read the last 20 (or pages 11 through 30). OK? Good, then write 10 more and do the go-back (pages 21 through 40).

It’s a first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. There are many, many, many drafts yet to come, and I’ll clean up the narrative and the dialog and fix errors there. Meanwhile, I’m driving toward the end zone.

Which takes us to the “read-throughs.” I get to approximately page 100 and stop, print out the pages, put them aside for a week or two, then read them through, page 1 to 100. And I decide: Did the go-back process work? Is this book riveting? Am I anxiously waiting for the next chapter?

If yes, I start in again on page 101. If not, I reconsider my entire premise and start over.

Want to learn more? I’m going to be talking about the process of finding the perfect writing zone at the annual Sisters In Crime conference, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Sylvania Campus of Portland Community College. I’m not a New York Times best-selling author but we’ll have at least two of them there. You can sign up or learn more by clicking here.

About danahaynes

Dana Haynes is the author of ICE COLD KILL (2013), BREAKING POINT (2011) and CRASHERS (2010) from Minotaur and St. Martin's Press.

Posted on September 10, 2010, in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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