Whenever I sit down to work on my novel in progress, I try not to think too hard about the fact that I am eventually going to cut 70-90% of what I write on any given day. It’s painful to think about, even if it’s necessary.
So it’s weird that I have totally embraced another writing technique: writing outtakes. For my current work in progress, I have written nine different outtakes and extra scenes, ranging in length from 15,000 words to 22,000 words. Every time I do it, I feel like I am wasting time, or at the very least, indulging in what I like to call “productive procrastination”. (If you spend your time organizing your to-do list to avoid actually doing anything on it…that’s productive procrastination.) Some of these stories are scenes from the novel in other points of view, some are completely separate, some are background information that I need for the main story. At two key points in the story, where several characters converge, I actually found it helpful to write the scene in several other characters’ points of view BEFORE I tackled it from my main character’s viewpoint.
So now, whenever I am struggling with my manuscript, I set it aside and choose another character to write about, or pick a moment in the past to write about. Then when I come back to the main manuscript, more often than not, I have a much better idea of how to proceed. It makes sense; if you got stuck writing an article or nonfiction topic, it would probably be because you need to do more research. These side stories are “research” on my characters. I have pages and pages of notes…
…but for some reason it doesn’t all become “real” to me until I write it in prose form. My characters tell me things I hadn’t known before when they start interacting with others.
Right now I am finally working on the climactic scene of my work-in-progress, a scene where five characters and their messy hopes, desires, and insecurities collides. I tried plotting it using color-coded index cards…
…scribbling notes in notebooks, adding half-formed notes to Word documents. And I have been working on this scene from the other characters’ points of view first, starting with the villain. (Writing in her point of view may not be healthy, but it’s useful.)
So here’s my resolution: I am no longer going to let myself feel guilty about this. It’s not a waste of time. It’s necessary to make the final product better, because when it comes to writing a great story, there’s just no way to rush it.