When Crowded Ocean (my marketing consultancy with Carol Broadbent) was in business, the core of our engagement with our startup clients was a positioning/messaging workshop we conducted with the startup founder(s) and core players. One of the things we taught that, as they entered an established market as a decided underdog, they needed to leverage their major advantage: the ability to adjust to changing market conditions on the fly, unburdened by the status quo (legacy products and customer expectations).
To get the point across, we used the twin images of a battleship and a sailboat. Battleships (established, large companies) have some obvious and large advantages over a sailboat (startup), but mobility isn’t one of them. Turning a battleship in the open sea is a protracted process while a sailboat can quickly zig and zag, repositioning itself in a fraction of the battleship’s time. Meaning established companies better get it right the first time, while startups, using the Minimal Viable Product model, can experiment, adjust and reposition themselves in a fraction of the time, a major advantage in a shifting market.
Why this stroll down Memory Lane, and what the hell does this have to do with writing and editing? It all depends on whether you write like a battleship (tight annotated outline before writing a single word) or a sailboat (start writing and see what you learn).
The first three novels I wrote were battleships: the outline was tight enough and the scope of characters, locations, and scenes were limited enough that the best way to edit was to write the book in full, then rewrite.
But here’s the thing with battleships: for every degree they get off-course after they leave port, that error gets magnified multiple times out in the open ocean. And I could see that happening with my first draft. Even though I stayed fairly close to the outline, I found that my characters—especially their motivations and flaws—were different than what I’d attributed to them during the outline phase. And by the time I’d gotten to the end of Book Two (of Five), I knew that I had to revisit what I’d written. Perhaps rewrite, perhaps just add some of the new dimensions and scenes, but if I kept writing, like the battleship I’d find myself wildly off-course with little idea how to get back on-course.
Whether I’ll have to rewrite at the end of each book, I don’t know yet. But I know that the edits I’m making now are going to save me a lot of time (and you, my reader, a lot of frustration). So stay tuned.