Let's face it - most of the time, writing is simply a matter of sitting down in front of a keyboard (or typewriter, or
notebook) and just forcing the stuff out, with as much joy or pain as it takes. Generally speaking, I don't greatly enjoy
the process of creating the first draft. It has its moments, undeniably, but for me the proper business of being a writer
is rewriting, and that's the part I can't wait to get to. The rest is usually one kind of slog or another. Writing a first
draft feels like stringing a rope across a chasm: a thin, lightweight strand that will allow a heavier rope to be
dragged across, which will in turn permit some kind of flimsy, Indiana Jones style rope-bridge to be constructed.
Whereas I want to be adding all the ornate scrollwork and gold-leaf onto the wonderfully elegant and sturdy metal structure
that all this is leading up to, eight or nine iterations down the line. But it must be done: it is, in a sense, what I get
paid for, because the revision doesn't feel like work at all.
I don't think I've ever gone into a book with exactly the same mental approach as the last time. Sometimes I do more
conscious planning, other times I trust my instincts and dive in with nary a glimmer of an idea as to where I'm heading. Broadly
speaking, I do less planning and more writing - but the kicker is that, of necessity, I must expect to do a lot of hacking
and cutting and moving around as I try and force the text into some kind of vague novelistic shape. Inevitably this entails
the discarding of a lot of wordage, but that's a price I'm prepared to pay, most of the time. Generally speaking, I have a
tendency to front-load too much preparatory material into the first part of a book - character setting, scene setting, and
so on - meaning that the engine of the story doesn't cut in until too late in the novel. At some point in the writing of a
book I become aware of this and have to eliminate - or in some way reposition or repurpose - tens of thousands
of words which are holding up proceedings. In Century Rain the fateful meeting between Verity and Floyd kept happening too
late, somewhere around the middle of the book. I had to chainsaw out huge chunks of backstory and digression to get the meeting
occurring somewhere near the point where it felt appropriate. I went through the same thing with with Pushing Ice - huge scads
of stuff being deleted just so I could get Rockhopper stranded on Janus earlier rather than later. By the time I wrote Terminal
World I was painfully aware of this hazard, and at all points strove to move the story along as quickly as possible, yet
it still happened and much had to be deleted from the first fifty thousand words. I suppose this tendency is analogous
to that law that says all complex projects take twenty percent longer to complete than anticipated at the start, even when
the law is taken into account.
Two main tools help me get a handle on structure during this cutting/revision process. On the screen, I make use of coloured
text to delineate drafts and so on: black might mean first draft, blue second, green third and so on. The aim is to keep working
on the file until it's all green, or purple, or whatever colour you choose to indicate that the prose is essentially finished.
I find being able to scroll rapidly through the file and see the colour blocks enormously helpful. On a different level, I'll
also occasionally use colour to keep track of viewpoints, so that a book or story doesn't become unbalanced.
Beyond the PC, though, by far the most useful tool in my study is a whiteboard. I'd got used to having one in my office
when I worked as a scientist, finding it an invaluable aid to organising my thoughts and writing reminders to myself.
It was a natural exension to buy one for home use - along with a selection of coloured markers (you can never have too many
colours, I find). The whiteboard in the photo at the top of the page was acquired around the time I wrote Pushing Ice, and
I used it for Terminal World as well. As has usually been the case, it didn't come into play until the novel was about half
written, at which point I found that I needed to start drawing the plot threads together. On the whiteboard you can hopefully
get some insight into the way I organise the structural blocks of a novel, accompanied by brief notes as to what the content
of a given block should be, and the desired word length. Along the way there are cryptic statements like "steam-organ as life-support
system" or "his angel ID can no longer be hidden" - hastily scrawled ideas and insights, not all of which will have any recognisable
echoes in the finished book. What you're seeing here is the whiteboard at the end of the novel, of course - you don't see
the stages it went through on the way, and - no - they aren't recorded for posterity.
That was all well and good, but with thoughts of the 11K trilogy beginning to loom, I realised I needed (cue Jaws music)
a bigger whiteboard. Hence, this much larger one, and the barest outline of the story that will take place in the first
book. Again, some cryptic notes: "slowcrime", "passive and active ching", "elephant cognition studies", "golems and claybots",
as well as thematic intentions - "establish sharp contrast between commercial Moon and savage, pristine Mars" ... and so on.
How much of this stuff will filter through into the finished book is anyone's guess, but I think a fair bit of it will.
Cheap plastic crocodile found during walk to town, by the way.
It also helps, in my view, to have a bit of music to listen to. As you can see, I'm not the most organised of people
when it comes to my CD collection (of which this is about half). Yes, I am fifty quid man.