Add on to my totally, 100% true post on Discovery Writing. OR: Writing (or not writing) your materpiece

on Thursday, July 22, 2010
So you've probably all read about the indisputable fact that Discovery Writing is the best way to write books, and have hopefully seen the error of your sinful ways and have converted to the fun, magical side of discovery writing. If not, then, well...maybe you should read it again.

At any rate, I was re-reading the blog post looking for errors (not really; I re-read it because I have a huge ego) and I stumbled upon Point 5. I fixated on the concept of "writing your masterpiece" (aka, your BEST IDEA EVER (tm)), and the comments I've heard from various sources on it. I thought I'd offer a few comments.

First, something that almost always comes up with writing group conversations is how Brandon Sanderson in his BYU class always encourages you to not write that masterpiece for that class. That book you've planned for years, the one that'll make you millions; you shouldn't write it yet. People often ask why, even though the answer is pretty clear.

Your "masterpiece" is what takes forever. It's what can never be right. It can never be right. This is because it has had years of buildup, years of planning, years of made-up movie trailers in your brain (maybe I'm the only person who does this), and so whatever you write can't possible be good enough. Most of the time, you end up writing a bit of it, and you suddenly realize writing is different than imagining something. You then either go back and edit, scrap it and start over, or just go back to planning. It's bad, and it takes forever.

Proof: My writing career.

Lacrymosa was my masterpiece. It's a trilogy (which currently only has a first book and a bit of the beginning of a second book), something me and a friend had been planning since we were 16. I started writing it when I was 20, and didn't finish writing it until I was 23 (from Summer 2006 to April 2009). It clocked in at 150,000 words, and was my first non-middle grade novel I ever finished.

And it almost didn't get finished. I actually broke Brandon's rule for his class and decided that if I was going to finish the damn thing, I was going to have to force myself to do it for his class. Needless to say, it worked, and the book ended. I thought it was the BEST IDEA EVER (tm), both before and after I finished it. 

Until I finished my second novel.

See, your masterpiece is usually pretty freaking terrible. I'll be the first to openly say that Lacrymosa isn't all that great. It has a lot of things I really like, and I feel the storytelling works, but everything else (prose, pacing, magic) is fair to poor at best. This was the thing I'd spent nearly four years planning and rolling over in my brain before writing it. How could it be worse than something I threw out in a month (see: Paradise Seekers)?

So, here's my shout out to all you people with your "masterpieces:" write something else until you are sure you can get to that. And, if you do decide to write it, write it on a deadline. Say you have six months to write it (or whatever a manageable timeframe is for you, but don't give yourself more than a year). If you don't, you'll be on that dumb thing forever. And, the worst part is, once you write it, it probably won't be that great. I'm willing to bet whatever you put out next is better. 

I forgot where I'm going with this, and I'm writing it in Applied Social Psychology so it's hard to stay focused, but here is my point: Writing something you come up with later on is usually better. It usually is more original, and works better.

This is, of course, because Discovery Writing is the best. You Outliners and your "Masterpieces".



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