Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Darwinian Method

Posted by: Nicole Luiken


My writing method is a bit odd. I write a first draft, then take a break from that book while I work on something else (these days two other projects, one drafting, one editing).

I have my reasons. The mental break allows me to read the story as a whole novel and to come at revisions with a fresh eye. I can see and tackle large problems better once I have a bit of perspective. I then usually go straight from the second draft onto the third and keep working until the book is (mostly) done.

However, I don’t stick to a strict schedule. I’m not currently under deadline, so I work on what I want to work on. There are a number of first draft files languishing in my folders that I’ve simply never gotten back to. Some I still intend to finish, others I’ve given up. (The number of my first drafts currently sits at seven. Four I have intentions to revise, three I suspect I may give up on. Only one am I actually eager to fit into my schedule and revise.)

These unfinished novels used to make me wince and feel guilty, but lately I’ve decided to embrace it. This is just Darwin’s method of selecting the fittest and best. Some novel ideas just never quite pan out. Some first drafts aren’t worth the effort it would take to pull them up to par. If the idea of revising them makes me tired, I can just… let them go. That can be very freeing.

After all, if I ever do want to revisit an idea, the file is still there.

Because sometimes a writer has an idea that they don’t have the chops to pull off early in their career. Or sometimes a failed draft is just waiting for another spark to take fire. Waiting patiently for an epiphany.

I wrote the first draft of my YA novel Frost the summer after I graduated high school. The initial idea grabbed me and I started writing without much of an outline. The resulting draft was terrible, and I had no idea how to fix it. It languished in a file drawer for I think a decade before I revised it. I was pleased with it but my beta reader pointed out a significant problem that I didn’t know how to fix so I put it away again and worked on other books until a chance conversation made me realize I needed to change the setting and add another POV character. After that third draft the book was much better, and the fourth better yet—but I still couldn’t get it published. So it waited, patiently, for another few years, another epiphany. The changes I made for the fifth draft were relatively minor, taking only a week or two to complete, but oh, what a difference they made. The book sold, and then went on to win one award and be a finalist for a number of others.

Some seeds never sprout, some merely need time and care to mature and bear wonderful fruit.



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