If you read my last Journey to a Book post, you’ll know that based on feedback from the agent who read Monkey See, (which I thought was Book 1 in a series of 3), I am now writing a book which comes before Monkey See, with the working title The Plague. It is set during a pandemic with symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease but rapidly accelerated, which kills 70% of the human population globally. It tells the story of a man who, in desperate circumstances, volunteers as the first human trial subject in a treatment hoped to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. Through the research, Danior gets to know his simian counterpart, a bilingual spider monkey named Chacho, who communicates in sign language. As the pandemic takes hold, the limits of Danior’s humanity are tested and an unbreakable bond is forged between man and monkey.
It usually takes me at least a year to write the first draft of a novel, and sometimes longer. But I wrote the first draft of The Plague in just 4 weeks. How? I hear you ask.
Usually I edit as a write, polishing each sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter over and over, meaning the story inches forward at a rate so slow I regularly fear it may grind to a halt. This process, which is about 10% writing and 90% thinking, gives me time to get to know my characters and their motivations, while my unconscious brain scurries ahead to see what lies around the next corner.
But writing a first draft of The Plague has been an entirely different process. From having written Monkey See, especially from the extensive work I did to flesh out the back story, I already knew my characters and their motivations, and was familiar with the world in which the story takes place. I didn’t need anywhere near so much thinking time. In fact, I didn’t allow myself to think at all. When I sat at the keyboard, I typed without stopping, as fast as my fingers would move, capturing the first thoughts that passed through my mind. I found myself writing 1,000 words an hour every time I sat down. And within a month I had a draft.
When I described this process to other writers, one referred to it as ‘a vomit draft’, and another, more poetically, as ‘freefall writing’. According to the oracle (Google), freefall writing is a term coined by Barbara Turner-Vesselago:
Freefall invokes the courage to fall without a parachute, into the words as they come, into the thoughts before they have fully formed in the mind, into the unplanned structures that take shape, without prompting, contain them.
One of the biggest benefits of freefall writing for me was that I didn’t have time to listen to the editor/critic who sometimes sits on my shoulder telling me what I’m about to type isn’t good enough.
It was also a journey of discovery as my unconscious mind took me places my conscious mind might not have ventured; I was truly surprised by some of the plot developments. The drawback, as I see it, is that there won’t be that same sense of excitement when writing the second draft, and I fear that process might drag a little. Will it be quicker or more enjoyable overall? I’ll keep your posted.
Have you experimented with freefall writing? Is it something you’d consider trying?