Grinding It Out
Wow, it’s been way too long since my last post, but it’s been a very busy and demanding month.
My last post was made when I was reshuffling the sequence of events in Small Fish. The index card concept was beautiful for organizing and writing the changes. Once the rough changes were done, I reverted to a rudimentary process where I read the entire manuscript and listed the sequence of events on a legal pad with three columns – page number on the left, event in the middle, and notes to make on the right.
The 12 pages of notes spotlighted some significant knots in the sequencing – for instance, the mentioning of an indictment before it had occurred, a conviction before it had occurred – and in the end, even the final edited manuscript that I sent to CW, I discovered, had a few small glitches. It’s a vexing process!
But that’s just old Fish.
I am one of the thousands of writers whose first novel was squeezed out of personal experience – in my case experience that simmered in my psyche for a period of 15 years. When Small Fish was completed, it was time to get on to the next one – which required the creation of a plot that had nothing to do with my personal experience. Could I do it? Was I just a story teller with one story to tell? Or could I invent something entirely new, even to me?
The answer to that question is still a long way from reaching the jury, but the process might be instructive.
First, I have the good fortune that a friend and client is a retired homicide detective, and he’s shared a lot of his experiences with me. That provided the germ of the plot for number two – the murder of a drug dealer and how it threatened the reputations and careers of law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and other innocent bystanders.
With Small Fish finally out of the way, I had no excuse not to finally dive into this draft and forge ahead. I’d squeezed out 6,000 words over the last 4 months. I’d barely made a dent, and my plot development was still nascent – a simple two page plot summary, bones with no meat.
I needed to isolate myself from the distractions of family and legal work to get a handle on this. As luck would have it, my dear friend lives in a lovely cottage on the water in Hull – his family was away for three weeks and he was traveling for business. He left me his key and a free pass. How cool – a shaded porch twenty feet from the water!
Tuesday, the temperature on the porch was 98 – in the shade. I brought a small fan with me, but it blew hot air. I sat on that porch in the hot shade and sweated out the hardest 1000 words I’ve ever written. In 3 hours, 4 pages. But more progress was made than just those words, because the sweat had produced pictures, ideas, meat for the bones.
During the night, the wind had shifted to the east, and the cool Atlantic breeze dropped the temp to the low 80’s. With a less hostile environment, I thought I’d easily hit 2000, but heh – I didn’t count on the construction crew working next door. My headphones and Pandora kept out the nail gun and skill saw, but I’m not at the top of my game with Duke Robillard in my ears. I eked out another 1000 words, but at the very end of the day, as I was struggling to finish a scene, at once a bubble burst somewhere inside, and for the last ten minutes, I wrote out the thought picture. It contained several scenes and a major new plot point. I now have a nice, clear picture of where I am going – for the next 20k, anyway.
The point of this (beside posting something before everyone forgets who the hell I am) is this:
I’ve heard a million times during the past 4 years that a “real writer” writes “every day.” I think that’s bullshit, if taken literally, but figuratively axiomatic. What we do to be “writing,” is open to interpretation. Building thought pictures and working through plot lines in your head at 2:30 am? That’s “writing,” as far as I’m concerned – or it #$%^%$ better be, because that’s what happens in my brain – every day – and if it doesn’t count, I’ll be very angry to find that out when I meet the Big Guy.
Whatever it’s called, and whenever it’s done, it’s definitely something I can fairly describe as grinding it out. Sometimes it’s a pleasant feeling, sometimes it’s like a root canal. But it’s necessary.
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