Thursday, 16 February 2012

Rip It Up

Aside from being a fine author, Chris Wooding is remarkably frank about the writing process on his website. Remarkably frank too about the process of learning that writing essentially is. One particular issue took my eye – the regularity with which he confesses he has to abandon his current draft and start again.
It took my eye because I’ve just done the same myself. And I was feeling pretty gloomy about it, until I read of Wooding’s rip-it-up moments, all of which have an epic glamour that I can’t get near to.
Here’s what happened. I was 14,000 words through Sleepwell and Fly 2 – the ballpark area, I was hoping, for coming up with a proper title and changing the word document’s name from ‘What Next?’ to something more official – when I realised I pretty much had to ditch it all. So I did. I’m now working on a new novel called ‘What Next Again’ and regretting the time lost and the words wasted. Time, as my last post testified, is not on my side.
But next to Wooding’s catastrophes, mine are small fry. “Ever since I had started writing” Wooding says, “I had been alternating between writing books for Scholastic and making abortive attempts at adult novels that inevitably got out of control and collapsed.” The one that captured my imagination was The Cold Road, a novel that eventually saw the light of day as The Weavers of Saramyr. “I sent it to my agent, unbelievably relieved at having finally completed it” Wooding says of The Cold Road. “She didn’t like it. I was mildly crushed... Trouble was, after I got over my initial reluctance to change anything about the book, I agreed with her.” So Wooding started again, taking the final sections of the book as the starting point for a new one.
Next to the mighty trauma described here, losing 14,000 words seems like tossing away a haiku with a cheery whistle. But it does raise the question – what went wrong? Why, to use Wooding’s phrase, do some novels get out of control and collapse?
With me, I think, it boiled down to two things – pace and planning. Basically, I began at a point six chapters before a killer scene I’d already written. When I wrote my way back to the killer scene and re-read it, I loved it. It was better than anything else I’d done. Conclusion: my story needs to start with that scene.
But for all I know, I could be embarking on another fruitless journey. In six months' time, it might be all wrong again.
I can only hope.


  1. That is reassuring! I have abandoned so many things - folder upon folder of them, stories that seemed to come from a gem of an idea and then floundered, but I kept hammering away at them. You're right about planning though. Now, I plan - not the whole thing, but I have a much clearer idea of where I'm heading and what my intentions are, and I build up my characters, so that I know them, before I embark on the story proper... my, it's a steep learning curve! Good luck with your new book Fletcher!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Abi. I'm doing what you do now - planning the first half or so; making sure the key elements are securely in place. Here's hoping...

  2. I have loads of abandoned things too. But the novel I'm working on now has grown to 49,000 words and I will *not* abandon it! I refuse. So I'll probably be joining you in doing some ripping up soon. Better that than throwing it out. Love the sound of your novel. Don't give up!