I have taught several semesters of English Composition in the past, and one of the first tools a teacher will introduce in those courses is the concept of "prewriting." In an academic setting, this consists mostly of outlining and freewriting. Yet there's a lot more that applies when you're writing a book. It will almost always be a huge time and energy savor to plan as much as you can about your story before you try to pound out a thousand words a day or whatever your goal may be. One of the most common issues I hear from writing students is that they can't seem to finish a damn book-length project. They get to about 30,000 words or so and sort of lose the thread. The story gets away from them. This has happened to me too many times to count, so I fully sympathize. There can be a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes you realize through the drafting process that you don't actually care about this story as much as you thought you did. But more often, you thought you knew where the story was going, but something went off the rails. Maybe there was a plot problem you didn't see coming. Or maybe you never worked out a character's backstory and now you're stumped. Or maybe the plot became just a little too convoluted for the story to contain. I've found that holding an idea in my brain a little longer, meditating on it, freewriting about it, outlining and re-outlining, producing character sketches and even diary entries from characters before I start chapter one can save me a lot of grief later on. This is true for the book overall, but it's also true for each scene. Sometimes, I'll get stumped mid-scene because I suddenly don't know all the actions that are supposed to take place. When that happens, I shut my laptop and take out my notebook (or use my personal whiteboard ) and brainstorm the mechanics of the scene. Who's in this scene, where are they, and what are they doing and why? Once I figure that out, I'm ready to go back in and finish the scene with gusto. or, just as importantly, I realize that the scene never made any sense in the first place, so I should replace it with something else. So don't devalue the process of figuring things out before you try to blast through your word count. However, keep in mind that some writers will use this as a stall tactic because they're afraid of putting the words down and getting them wrong. The prewriting has to end sometime. Trust your gut to know when. If you feel like you're rushing, you probably are. If you feel like you're stalling, check your notes and reassess how confident you are that the story is there. If it is, I think you'll know. The more you do this, the better you'll come to understand your own process.
Every Wednesday, as I draft my second novel, I will be posting writing tips, advice, and tough love reminders for myself and anyone who may need it. Feel free to share your own.