There are times when I know where I’m going and can comfortably haul along at 65 mph (105 kph, for all my fans outside of the US), churning out 2000-plus words a day and feeling great. This usually happens when I hit a section of the book that I’ve thought about quite a lot already. Because I don’t have to think too much about where I’m going — I “know the area” so to speak — I can concentrate on just getting the words out in a way that hopefully doesn’t sound like the ravings of a deranged chimpanzee, banging on a Speak-n-Spell.
Related to these times, but not quite the same, are the straightaways — periods where I may not even know the road, but it’s so straight and wide and open that I can still just crank out the words. Everything is just clicking, and the story’s flying out behind me. These don’t happen often, but when they do, it might be my favorite part about writing.
More often than anything else, there are times where I have to slow it down to maybe 30 mph (48 kph) because, while I know the general direction I’m headed in, I just don’t really know the roads all that well. I haven’t driven them that often — that is, I haven’t thought about this particular section over and over — and I need to be careful not to miss my turn, and lead the story off into some crazy direction it wasn’t supposed to go. These are the days where I hit 1500 words (or 1,747, right now) and feel more relieved than anything else. “Whew … got through that without crashing into anything.”
Last but not least are the times when things go wrong; you take a bad turn, hit traffic, or find yourself detoured by construction. You have no idea where you’re going and only a vague sense of what the right direction is. More often than not, you end up having to turn around and backtrack. In the writing world, this means you’ve lost the thread of your plot, and usually it means deleting words, sometimes whole paragraphs, to get back to where you need to be. Man, nothing hurts like highlighting an entire paragraph and whaling on the delete key, but sometimes it has to be done!
I try not to “plot” my novels. That is to say: I try not to lay out all of the important elements ahead of time. I like the organic feel of coming up with stuff as I go. At the same time, it’s a bad idea to have no direction whatsoever, so I do like to give myself lots of map markers — points in the plot that I know I want to hit — and then finding my way to them. This lets me have certain scenes that I can think about over and over, and then really tear through. For example, in The Blood That Bonds, I knew what was happening to Abraham well ahead of time. As far as what happens to Theroen? Didn’t know until a few days before it happened. As a consequence, the Abraham scene was much easier and faster to write, but both scenes are equally important to the reader (hopefully!).
I’m nearing the end of The Children of the Sun, now. I’ve just begun the fifth and final section of the book, and it’s an interesting place to be. I’m hoping for lots of straightaways, and I have a few more map markers guiding my way, but I’m not kidding myself: there’s going to be some twists and turns, and maybe even some backtracking, before I reach that final destination.