As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to get it ready for my awesome professional editor, I reflected on what I went through to write the book. I see now this could have been faster if I hadn’t spent time editing as I went, chapter by chapter until the halfway point. In short, I actually aimed for quality too early.
At first this violated my expectations. Being into Agile, I figured that doing it piece by piece, making chapters available to prereaders, would result in better quality. It’s something I’ve read about authors doing before, and I’d read several articles on how instructional writing (which I’ve done for awhile) can be released in modules. Shouldn’t a story be something you can release chapter by chapter and get good feedback?
Now I’m not saying it’s a bad idea to make fiction available to prereaders in parts, but I’ve come to the conclusion that’s of very limited value. Here’s why.
Instructional and nonfiction works are often something we can break down – and indeed, should break down – into pieces that almost anyone could edit. Yes, some may miss context or seem borderline useless on their own, but nonfiction is often very modular. We process instructions, history, documentation, etc. in discreet chunks – we think step-by-step.
Nonfiction works are a lot like modular software or dishes where you can sample individual ingredients and get an idea of their combined taste.
But fictional works? They’re different.
Fictional works are much more of a whole. They’re intellectual and emotional and literary, requiring many modes of thought and feeling to appreciate them. They often have mysteries and callbacks and references – indeed, deception is part of some some fiction writing. Fiction is hard to evaluate apart from the whole of the work – to truly “get” it you need the whole experience a complete work. Finally, as fiction involves imagination, you often discover your work as you write it.
Fictional works are like software that requires a lot of code to be done before it functions or a crude alpha before it can be evaluated. They’re like a dish that you can’t appreciate until it’s done, or ones requiring careful tweaking to get “just right.”
I now realize that I could be delivering A Bridge To The Quiet Planet to you quicker if I’d decided, as opposed to editing chapter by chapter, I’d just run on and pushed myself to finish the thing and accepted it wasn’t perfect – maybe put out one or two chapters to get my groove. Now that I have a complete work, all the edits are far more richer, far more revealing, far more coherent – and much of my best edits were made when it was done and I could see the whole thing.
When I write fiction in the future, I think I need to accept that my initial effort is basically going to be like a piece of alpha software. Good planning and thought can make it a very good alpha, but my focus should be to get it done so I have enough to work from. Many things in fiction writing only become apparent once you have the whole picture.
Again, I don’t think this means you can’t put unfinished fiction up for review. I just think people need to accept the limits of such things – and ask what delivers the most value for them and the audience.
I also find this very satisfying to think of. I can accept that fiction starts imperfect because of all its factors and charge ahead, admitting it won’t be perfect. It’s just that when the imperfect version is done, the perfect version follows more easily.
(By the way that title took me forever to come up with so I hope you appreciate the attention to alliteration.)