I stole the term ‘imaginary bets’ from Tim Powers. He used it in the talk he gave at Eastercon 2009, which was a true plotting masterclass; I offer as evidence the fact that Ken McLeod, who had just won the BSFA award for best novel, was taking as many notes as I was.
The Powers’ way isn’t my way: he plans far more meticulously than me. My recent experiences with the massive rework of Bringer of Light imply that perhaps I should be taking more notice of the great man’s wise words, but I don’t think I’ll ever go into the level of detail he does.
I am, however, using his technique of imaginary bets more extensively this time. These are possibilities, sometimes quite wild possibilities (I remember Powers saying something about some nuns and a Volkswagen…) which present themselves early on in the process of writing a novel. They’re great fun but they can also be a little distracting for someone whose brain isn’t as big as his is. There is a part of me – the same part that’s aware of writing to a deadline, and which propels me into t’garret pretty much every day whether I want to go or not – that says I should stop pissing about and actually start writing. And yes, I will, soon. But I think that letting the possibilities run their course now could save (re)work later. A lot of the issues in Bringer of Light occurred because I found a possible solution to a plot problem, and, aware of how fast the deadline was approaching, took that course blindly. Perhaps more thinking time before I launch in is in order.
The timing helps: I have forbidden myself to actually start writing Queen of Nowhere before Christmas. I can note down odd snippets (I already have two possible opening lines, though no chapter to seat either in) but the word-count won’t be kicking off until after santa’s visited. Looking beyond t’garret, this also removes some of the real-life stress associated with this time of year, as I’m not having to schedule long writing sessions that impinge on activities in the ‘real’ world; I just have to carry a notebook at all times and allow myself every possible opportunity to think – in the bath, in bed, in front of the fire or on a plot walk (or rather trudge). Ironically, the inclement weather might result in a lot of unexpectedly ‘free’ time coming up, given going anywhere right now isn’t practical. However, the rule still stands: the novel won’t be started before Xmas, and, if the imaginary bets are still coming in thick and fast, there’s no obligation to begin before the new year.