I have been articulating the necessary preconditions for outstanding fiction writing. While reading dozens of creative writing books and canonised literature, among other sources of information, I understood the process as idiosyncratic: what I evoke from reading cannot be extrapolated into meta-advice which all can follow. That would be naïve and destructive. With this personal outline in mind, it seemed to me that reading and writing are necessary; simply, if I do not read and write consistently then I am doomed to mediocrity. An absence of reading and writing is an absence of the fundamental tools necessary to the articulation of the buried, literary giant that lies dormant in the psyche. Reading as a writer begins to tremor the dust from the giant’s shoulders.
In 2013 I participated in National Novel Writing Month. I wrote a horror novel in twenty-one days; it was 83,000 words. I dislike what I wrote, and I now think of it more as an exercise in writing efficiently and consistently than I do anything that resembles outstanding writing. When beginning that novel, I had the name of the main character and the intensely vague idea that it was going to be a horror novel. Aside from these two meagre things, I had nothing: I was writing without a plan of any kind. Necessarily, if I wanted to improve this novel now I would have to rewrite and rewrite—call order out of the unplanned chaos I had created. But to me this seemed far too laborious and cumbersome. Better, it seemed to me, to begin with at least a vague plan and enter into the domain of writing with some utility from which to write. Better still, it would be worthwhile to articulate a plan which could be applied to both short stories and novels—my two primary concerns—and also a plan for the rewriting process. In this way, I could begin writing on a strong foundation, with the rewriting beacon in the far distance already articulated and visible.
I began work on articulating the necessary planning needed to begin a fictional story. Scanning over hundreds of notes on writing I had made over several years, I began to condense these many hundreds of pages into something substantially economic and learned. Much of this process involved discarding, like when a child discards the stabilisers on their bicycle, knowing through the process of time the basics of how to maintain control. What resulted was a fiercely concise document which allowed for almost full articulation of the premise, protagonist, plot, and so on. This could be later condensed into a step-by-step list of paragraphs used in conjunction with the writing process to maintain a level of sophistication when evoking the necessary scenes and chapters. I extended this process to include the various questions one can ask of a piece of writing, when rewriting, to confirm that it is the very best which one can manage. In all, I had established my idiosyncratic preconditions for writing and also the later process of rewriting. Now, in some fundamental way, I thought of myself as free to return to the reassuring steps of reading and writing unencumbered: I had established the framework and could now read and write in peace.
Though this process has been for me necessary and rewarding, there is one final step which would provide me with still even greater peace: an articulation of the style of writing I hope to achieve. This something could also be called voice. And while it appears common knowledge that style and voice are achieved through due diligence in writing, and this I will not dispute, I would still feel better for having created solid ideas of what I want the overall canvas of my writing to look like. In short, having uncovered the giant and having blown away some of the dust from its shoulders, I still could not yet see the intricacies of its features. What is the expression on the giant’s face? This is what I want to confirm. In this way, with the process of pre-writing and post-writing articulated, and strong ideas about how the actual writing should leave its final impression, I would feel completely free to read and write within the humble boundaries of reading and writing. That would be all there is to it.
When I have seen this whole process through, I shall feel ready to begin writing with some force. As explained, I feel near that point of completion. I am looking forward to that time with anticipation.