Fast writing and ball dropping

I’m working on a new book proposal, about which more later. My current self-imposed deadline is tomorrow so I can give it to the Wyrdsmiths before I send it off to my agent. The process has me really thinking about writing again for the first time in a while. I’m writing fast at the moment, which means that I’m dropping some of the balls I’m juggling. This is not a big deal, as I will pick them up again on the polish pass—as I usually do—but it’s very interesting to see which balls are getting lost at this stage. They fall into three main categories:

1) Sentence level stuff. In particular, articles. The faster I write the less I write “the.” I think that’s my brain not typing bits that can easily be inserted later. updated to add: Also conjunctions. Apparently this post was written fast as I missed at least one above—or, at least that’s what Laura tells me.

2) Smells and other sensory details. As my focus narrows I lose senses, starting with smell. This is a mirror of the real world. I don’t have a great sense of smell to start with and on top of that I have the ability/liability to focus on what I’m doing so intensely that a lot of things get sort of grayed out as I’m working intensely on something. It’s nice that when I do that I can block out the cat barfing in the hall. It’s less so that I block out being hungry, having to go to the bathroom, or, at really intense levels, things like my tendons screaming that I need to take a break right now or I’ll pay for it later.

3) Character descriptions, and this is the one that really tells me I’m writing up at the edge of what I can do in terms of speed and still remain coherent. I’m a plot and world focused writer and that means that all my character skills are a deliberate effort of craft layered on top of the bedrock stuff. It’s a deeply laid skill set at this point, deep enough that I no longer need to think about it at the conscious level much, and I haven’t dropped it in years. But yesterday I decided to swap the gender of one of the minor characters and, as I was making the necessary changes, I realized I hadn’t described them at all because that wasn’t an important aspect of the plot function they were originally serving. However, the change will bring them deeper into the story and, at that level, what they look like becomes important enough that not knowing what they looked like rang bells for me.

Which brings me back to my polish pass comment. At this point in my writing life what I turn in to my editor is very close to what I think of as my first actual draft—the stuff I hand to Wyrdsmiths—after I’ve read through the rough again and fixed sentences, put in (some*) sensory detail, and done things like describing minor characters. I sometimes forget that there even is a step between putting it on the page and handing it in, because polish typically happens in an hour or two the day before we meet, and I don’t have to pay a lot of forebrain attention to it. Despite that it’s a critical step and one that probably doesn’t get talked about enough by experienced writers.

*There are always more details added after Wyrdsmiths, especially smells, plus larger fixes.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog Nov 11 2009, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)