The other morning I had a guest over for brunch. In other words, I had to tidy the apartment. The problem was that my apartment was already tidy.
This is because I’m writing a book, and writing a book requires time to think. Most often, taking “time to think” results in my getting caught up retightening the legs of my chairs, vacuuming the couch, cleaning the stove, polishing the floor, and even cutting and filing pieces of wood to hold up tapestries. With steak knives. In other words, procrastination leads to a tidy house.
(Of course, too much predictability is boring, so when my original mission is to do housework, I artfully procrastinate by reading.)
Please, don’t try this at home. I am a master and cannot promise you’ll have the same results.
So there I was, looking at my altogether far too tidy living room and thinking: I need time to think. And then I thought, why, I really should clean the coffee table. A lady never entertains guests on a laptop-and-paper-strewn coffee table.
Now, my coffee table is a Moroccan brass tray table. In other words, it carries heat. I always place a large and slim volume between my table and my laptop. As a lady never overheats her books, I have a constant rotation of books. Hard-covers being preferable for lap-top writing, I use paperbacks usually for table-top writing.
And so it was that Frog and Toad was on the couch, and Writing the Breakout Novel: Workbook was on the table. I squinted at it, not out of suspicion, mind you, but because I’d just switched on the lights. Then I sat down and flipped it open listlessly. (I was, as you’ll recall, currently tasked with tidying up, and it fell to my lot to procrastinate by reading.)
The book fell open to the section on antagonists. I read a few lines of the worksheet Maass, the author, wanted me to fill out.
Meh, I thought. My antagonists are just fine. I yawned. And then an idea began to niggle. I slammed down the book, yanked Frog and Toad back from the shelf and slipped it under the laptop. And began answering the worksheet. Egad. It was amazing.
And bizarre. I would read a question and think, but I already know… and then I’d type the question anyway and suddenly the groove would kick in. I’d write sometimes totally what I knew, what I expected… And then he’d ask me to subvert it, to fight my character. And suddenly…great stuff.
I’d think I was rehashing, but suddenly—D’s future opened up for me. I realized what was in store for him—in detail.
I was thrilled and horrified. I’d just broken thoroughly into Act III. I knew, finally, what he didn’t. I had an emotional moment. I decided to put all my characters through the process—protagonist and antagonist alike.
And then, of course, as that meant writing, I cleaned the stove instead.
Okay, fine, so I did keep on writing. Time-to-think rules don’t apply when writers have actually caught hold of a wriggly little fairy of a genius insight, and indeed one must often crush the desire to “think” too much over the stove or under the furniture. Writing requires that key ingredient my dad used to tell me about: Glue in the ass.
Anyway, this breakthrough’s been amazing. I’ve been racing with Act III scenes and have plot points written up for others. My antagonists are ready for their face-offs, and my heroes are heading to the denouement. I’m exhilarated to feel it take shape. It’s a great nexus—my vision, which I’d felt impaired for a long time, is back; and with it my sense of patience is restored. Emotional truth and structure are both in sight, and the plot’s sense of inevitability is back—although I hope not its predictability. We’ll see. 🙂
I am utterly realizing anew what they mean when they say that the first draft is the writer telling the story to themselves, and that the subsequent drafts are writing it for others. The first draft is when I find out what happens, really. Only then can I craft it into something that will be enjoyable to read. Then finally is the time to exert power over the text, because I’m not floundering in my own sea of questions. My spidey-senses tell me that that’ll be a whopper of an experience–rewriting and editing. 🙂 But we’re not there yet. We’re finishing Act III, mehopes.
Other stuff on my to-do list are: two protagonists that need development and three secondary characters that need work—one of them I have decided is mostly invisible because she’s still the wrong person. It took me several versions of M to find him fitting, and longer for him to start to move into himself, to develop his grays. H isn’t there yet. Maybe H has to go, and someone else take her place. I wonder how M finally worked and how I can make my other protagonists stronger like him…
Welcome back, heady rush of story! Welcome back euphoria! Goodbye housekeeping!!! 🙂
How’re you guys doing?