--George R. R. Martin, on the difference between outlining and discovery writing
I'm only writing this because I can't finish my book.
It went so well at first. I banged out a first draft, sat back, relaxed--and then realized it was crap. Which I was okay with, because I hear this is a common problem with first drafts. I figured I was home free, since all I had to do was fix it in the second draft. How naive I was. One does not simply write a second draft--not if one is a discovery writer.
In the fabulous world of discovery writing, the process goes something like this.
1. Write your first draft.
This part is pretty easy, because the characters kind of just do things. You'll probably spend a lot of time asking yourself, "Why would he [or she] do that?" Other than that, things are good, your creative juices are flowing, you're thinking, "Wheeeeeee, I can do this! I can really write a book." If you're writing 1000 words a day or so, you're done in a few months.
2. Review what you've written.
Here's where you start to run into trouble, because this is when you realize 90% of your "novel" is character development. Say you've got a 100,000-word first draft. The typical novel has 250-300 words per page, so you've written a 400-page book with, at most, 40 pages of plot. Whatever plot you do have bears little resemblance to the story you thought you were writing.
3. Write an outline for your second draft.
To a discovery writer, outlining might sound like pure torture. It's not so bad, though--all you have to do is pick up the cues your characters have given you and develop them into a coherent plot. It's satisfying to see it take shape, and you're optimistic for your second draft.
4. Begin the second draft.
Oh, boy. Remember that outline you wrote? Your characters laugh in the face of it. Within a few thousand words, your plot's taken an unexpected turn, thereby invalidating most of your carefully thought-out storyline. You may still have a basic idea of where the book is going, but how you're going to get there? That's a bit of a mystery.
Stop expecting your characters to cooperate and resign yourself to the fact that they're going to do what they want, when they're damn well ready. Give up on writing "in order" and write the chapters in the order they reveal themselves to you. Attempt to determine what order everything is really supposed to go in. Practice deep breathing.
At this point, you may begin to lose your mind. It's not unusual for your characters to feed you lines of story as you're waking up or falling asleep. While you're driving, in the shower, during sex. You have 200,000 words of random notes for your book but only six chapters in your second draft. Your characters lie to you. You argue with your characters. They argue back.
7. Repeat steps 3-7 as needed.
Do them in any order you please. Rewrite the same chapter five times. Whatever. It's not like you're finishing the fucking book anyway.
8. Realize that your "main character" is not, in fact, your main character.
In hindsight, this probably should have been obvious. Oops.
9. I have no idea.
I already told you--I wouldn't be writing this if I could finish my novel.