Progress, not perfection / Mars

Keep on Bridging

I haven’t sent one of these out since new year, so with the end of February fast approaching, I figured now’s as good a time as any. 

Part of the reason for my tardiness is simply that I haven’t had a lot to say. I began work on a big videogame last autumn, and I’m still working on it, and it’s taking up a chunk of my time… but, as is so often the way in games, and as I’ve spoken about here before, I can’t tell you what it is or who I’m working with. It’s enormously frustrating, but I’m used to it.

When I’m not working on the game, though, I’m doing something I can tell you about…

…Because at the start of this month I began writing the third Brigitte Sharp thriller, THE PATRIOS NETWORK.

In The Patrios Network, MI6 cyber-analyst Brigitte Sharp faces her toughest and most puzzling challenge yet. A ‘deepfake’ video of an American politician calling for race war in Europe leads to violent clashes and a growing militia threat on the continent, while Bridge pursues a traitor to Paris with fatal consequences. What do online conspiracy theories, sudden power blackouts, and an old Moscow grudge have in common? A night of blood threatens to explode, and Bridge must decipher the network’s dark agenda before time runs out…

And working on the book today is what prompted me to finally put something down here.

I’m a big advocate of what I call the ‘zero draft’ approach to writing. Others call it the ‘vomit draft’, or the ‘shitty first draft’, but the principle is the same: it’s easier and better to write a rough initial draft, as fast as you can, and not worry about revising it until you’ve finished.

There are many reasons for this, and I won’t go into all of them here. I’ve written and talked about it extensively, including in THE ORGANISED WRITER, and you can read a condensed summary in the For Writers section of my website.

Today was a good reminder of why I do it, though. Today I wrote a short chapter, early in the book, which frankly isn’t my best. I might even admit it’s a bit weak. It doesn’t contain much conflict, it doesn’t follow a character’s journey from desire to goal, and it only does one thing to advance the story. 

But that one thing is very, very important. So the chapter is necessary, or at least right now I’m pretty sure it is. And, in the final version, I hope it’ll be more interesting, more compelling, more engaging.

For now it just needs to exist.

When I’ve finished the whole draft, I’ll come back to it. It’s even possible I may realise what I need to do, how I can improve it, in the coming weeks while I’m writing another part of the book entirely. If that happens, I’ll jot down those thoughts as a note in the virtual margins of that chapter. What I won’t do is go back and edit the chapter there and then, because – for my way of working, at least – that’s a slippery slope, and before I know it I’ll be wasting days revising everything I’ve written so far, instead of actually making progress.

Making progress, to me, is by far the most important thing. Learning to live with subpar work in my zero draft, reassuring myself that I’ll go back to it later and make it better long before anyone else will read it, was a major step in my development as a writer and has stood me in very good stead over the years.

One of the things I love about doing my podcast Writing And Breathing is seeing how everyone’s process is different. Even those of us who work in similar ways still have wrinkles and idiosyncrasies that mean no two writers write in the same way. So I always try to be clear that my process isn’t going to work for everyone, and if you have no problem sitting down to write and making your deadlines, for heaven’s sake don’t change for the sake of it.

But if you are having trouble finishing drafts, or getting your words done every day, you might want to try this approach. Just focus on getting words down, and worry about making them *good* words later.

Mission to Mars

Just one last thing: you probably heard that NASA’s Perseverance rover landed on Mars last week. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But even better, thanks to modern camera tech, we now have hi-definition video of the landing. Incredible.

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