The Rabbit, the Tortoise, and the Good Writer
by Marcus A. Nannini
Writing a book is not a race. Though the term “in a rush” has no place in the life of a good writer, it might be the toughest urge to overcome. And yet my mind tends to race, so how do I deal with it?
Drafting a manuscript involves more than setting an appropriate pace. It is about consistency, persistence, being relentless and, above all, being resilient. Any book suffering from either a rushed pace, like a jack-rabbit being chased by a coyote, or a pace that drags along as if the reader is a Box Turtle on a stroll through the desert, is a book doomed to obscurity. The prose may be without fault, but if the reader isn’t turning the pages, what might have been a great story becomes, instead, one that is never read. I prefer my books to be read.
I employ a different approach when I’m drafting a work of fiction than I do when writing nonfiction. Fiction is the most widely published genre and for that reason, today, I will limit this post to how I go about writing fiction.
For starters, I always know how my book is going to begin and end. As a result, I tend to hit the ground running. By that, I mean I write as quickly as I can so my fingers can keep up with the story running ahead of them in my mind. I tend to write for hours until I need to stop for the day.
The following day I pick up from word #1. Essentially I am editing the speed writing from the prior day and beginning the process of configuring the words and phrases into the best they can be. Once complete that process, I stop and pick up where I left off the next day. The process is repeated until I have roughly 15,000 words. At that point, the manuscript is too long to re-review in total each time I continue writing. The need to continue writing the story while the ideas are flowing takes precedence over editing. It is at this point I print what I have written, to-date, for the first time, roughly 15,000 to 20,000 words.
There is no substitute for printing out drafts and reviewing the hard copy. The process affords me a “new” perspective and simultaneously reduces typos. I often share my work with a beta reader and my absolutely indispensable editor. When I reach the end of the book, it has already been vetted, to varying degrees, without my ever having stopped the progression of putting thought into print.
My approach is both “rabbit” and “turtle.” I don’t run so far ahead that the editing turtle cannot catch up. I believe this aspect improves cohesion and pacing. Both are of critical importance.
My fiction writing is always based on historically significant events. Consequently, I need to divert from writing to researching along the way. I very much dislike taking a pause while writing, but when my intuition signals me some factual background would enhance a piece of the story, I divert to research mode. I might find what I need immediately, or I might lose three or four hours. I must invest the time, as the correct dose of background facts will enrich the story, sometimes giving it the appearance of nonfiction, rather than the tall tale it is.
However, too many facts can detract from the story. An overabundance of facts can ruin the pace and distract the reader. Too much fact can distract me, as the author. Thus, my rabbit and turtle approach comes into play; by never writing too many chapters without review, I ensure that my betas, my editor, or I will notice and the storyline will be maintained.
Referencing the title begs the question “Am I a good writer?”
My answer: “I never know until the reviews come in or a magazine story is purchased.”
I do my best. Once the entire manuscript has been edited numerous times and I am making changes more for my satisfaction than for any other reason, I know I have reached the point when I must pull out the thesaurus.
I initially focus on the first two or three chapters, looking at each sentence and seeking better descriptive words. That’s when I highlight critical wording and check with the computer’s built-in thesaurus. Sometimes I discover I have used the best descriptive words; other times I change them. It is arduous but improves the final product.
Why the first chapters? They are critical in drawing in your reader and need to be the best they can be. Period. I generally read the opening chapter more often than any other chapter in most of my books.
There always seems to be a chapter or two I find more difficult to write than most of the others. Those chapters are subjected to the thesaurus process until I am happy, or at least satisfied. Not to say I don’t employ this feature throughout the writing process, as I do indeed use it. But when I am polishing the final product, I find it to be an even more valuable tool.
For me, writing is a race within a race; the rabbit takes the lead and the turtle mops up the rabbit’s mess. The approach works for me, so it’s how I will continue to write until some better approach comes along.
Marcus Nannini began his journalistic career when he published his own newspaper in the sixth grade, charging 25 cents for the privilege of reading the only printed copy of each edition. During his undergraduate years, Nannini was a paid reporter and worked three semesters as the research assistant for journalism professor and published author Richard Stocks Carlson, Ph.D. Nannini is a life-long history buff with a particular interest in World War II and the Pearl Harbor attack. His continuing curiosity over several Japanese aerial photographs and the turtling of the U.S.S. Oklahoma lead him to write Chameleons, first as a screenplay and now as a full-length novel. His latest work, Left for Dead at Nijmegen, has recently debuted to great regard, internationally.