This last Sunday night, my critique partner Jean sent me an e-mail with Chapter 20 of her current work-in-progress (WIP) attached. She asked to see Chapter 1 of my newest WIP. (She just finished critiquing my previous manuscript.)
My heart sank like an anchor into the pit of my stomach. For one thing, my critique partner is also a math teacher, and as math was my worst subject in school, I have a highly irrational fear of math teachers. And for another thing, Jean is like Glenn Close’s character in Fatal Attraction, in that she will not be ignored. She is an accountability fiend, one of the reasons I like working with her.
Alas, I don’t have the chapter. Well, I do—in fact, I have several Chapter 1’s—or would that be Chapters 1?— but none that I would let my dog read, let alone my critique partner. Heck, I don’t know if I’d even let my dog eat them.
I’ve started one manuscript after another this year—I count five false starts off the top of my head—yet after the first few chapters, everything goes pfft!—and the story stops dead in the water, like the Titanic after it struck the iceberg.
After much mulling and hair pulling, I conclude the problem is part change in work environment, and part confusion about what’s the right writing process for me, though I tend to think the two go hand in hand.
In the case of the former, I now have a spouse recently retired from the military, who hangs around the house all day, and likes to play the radio full blast on a station that’s not the same one I prefer when I’m writing. He won’t close his office door because, he says, it gets too hot in there otherwise. His radio sounds as if it’s piped in all over the house.
Once upon a time, I used to work in my office with the door open, while the stereo played my favorite station out in the family room. Lately I’ve had to close the door and forgo music, because of barking dogs, a husband who likes to switch off the stereo so he can change channels on the TV once he tires of his radio, and a sliding glass door right outside my office door. A lot of traffic goes in and out that door all day. And even the closed door doesn’t help. Just this morning, Mr. Lucky opened the door to say, “Did you know that no one else in the world has my name? I found this out on one of those online searches just now. I’m the only person on this planet with my name.”
“Yes, dear, I know.” I even blogged about it recently.
I told him I needed a boom box for my office. Nothing fancy, just something that came with a radio and a CD player, so I could close my door and still have the music I needed to write. So we went out and bought the boom box, and I added about two thousand words to two thousand words already written on a new Chapter 1—for a total of approximately 4,000 words on my latest do-over.
I have never written a book without music playing in the background. I’ve learned to write without smoking—I quit when I married, but when I was single, I smoked a cigarette for every page I wrote. But I refuse to give up the music.
The other thing dragging me down is my determination to write a synopsis first. This springs from the once in a lifetime fluke event two years ago, when I had to produce a five page synopsis for a TARA workshop. All the synopses I had on hand were at least 10 pages, and I couldn’t shorten any of them. So I wrote a five page synopsis for a book I’d never written, and except for a confusing resolution—which resolved itself once I wrote the actual book—it turned out better than I expected, and the book I went on to write followed it quite closely.
How did I do it? I don’t know. I only know I haven’t been able to duplicate that achievement since—meaning it wasn’t settled science for me—but a bloody miracle. On the positive side, I’ve since figured out how to halve my ten page synopses.
So I’ve started this new book my old-fashioned way, what I call the Indiana Jones School of Plotting, based on something he said in Raiders of the Lost Ark: “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”
That, and fellow writer and TARA member Phyllis threw down her keyboard like a gauntlet that same Sunday night, and multiple-dog-dared me to write a complete book between now and the TARA holiday party in December.
We’re talking between 90-95,000 words. Can I do it? Will I do it?
It means at least a thousand words a day. I’ve written over a thousand words a day many times. But can I do it every day, for a hundred days, on the same manuscript?
I told Phyllis, “You’re on!”
I have four thousand down already. At least 86,000 more to go.