Thursday, August 28, 2014

About Last Night

A few weeks ago I was talking to a fellow writer. He opined that detailed plot outlines were a waste of time, because you had to leave room "for the magic to happen." I completely agree. It's one of the Things about writing that makes my husband slightly uncomfortable, both because it sounds so woo-woo and because it goes so strongly against his own profession. When you're an eye surgeon you want to know everything in advance. You want your surgeries to go entirely to plan. When they don't, it's where the anxiety happens, not the magic. I get that.

The other Thing that bothers him is when I talk about the characters coming to life in my head, how they have all sorts of conversations that surprise me, and that sometimes they completely refuse to follow the basic plot I've proposed for them. It is indeed where the magic happens, and the idea I agree is odd. After all, I have one brain. We're accustomed to believe in linear thinking. Characters coming to life inside skulls sounds an awful lot like schizophrenia.


I've been working on a new novel. It's at the excruciating stage called The Beginning. So often people tell me that they don't understand how I (or any other writer) can write a whole novel, because they themselves don't feel Inspired All The Time. The truth is that writing is work. Sometimes it's work the way digging post holes is work. Sometimes it's work the way digging a post hole to China is work--sweaty, dirty, fruitless. Once in a very great while it's inspiration, but if you don't train yourself to do the work, you'll never profit from the inspiration.

I had a very lucky break early on in my career. I entered a novel manuscript in a contest for unpublished writers. It didn't win--nor was it ever published--but since it was about horses it got sent to an editor who supervised one of those horsey series for tween girls that were very popular 20 years ago. I was invited to work for the series.  The novels weren't put out under my name, thanks be to God, because they're still in print and I could name you a few that make me break out in hives, my writing is so bad. They were based on very stringent plot outlines--chapter one, always very short, introduced the characters and the main plot question, chapter eight contained the big turning point, etc. and on characters I didn't develop, and there was very little room in them for magic of any sort. But writing them gave me enough of a steady income that I could afford to stay home with my infant son (my husband was a poorly-paid medical resident) and also taught me how to put my butt into my writing chair. If my son had been up half the night but was now napping, I needed to get five pages written. If those five pages were scheduled to be funny, they needed to be funny, no matter what my personal attitude at the time. I wrote fourteen 125-page novels in 2 1/2 years; I once wrote an entire novel in 2 weeks, and while I'd prefer never to do that again, it's good to know I can.

So this week, I kept sitting down and writing. It was all dreck. I expected that. I've slogged down this crummy little path before. Once in awhile I would write a sentence that didn't completely suck, and it would shine from the page, so different from all the other sentences around it that it was still wholly useless. Another day, another effort. Fine.

Last night, worn out from not sleeping well due to being upset about the dog, I had come in from the barn, taken a bath, ordered dinner to be delivered and hunkered down on the couch in my pajamas by 6:30. I stayed downstairs until 9:30 only because I was waiting for the end of my husband's fantasy football draft, so I could say goodnight. He's got a bad cold and is sleeping in the guest room in quarantine. Then I went happily off to bed, expecting to fall asleep immediately, and then my book characters started throwing a big party--a wedding, in fact--inside my head, and my protagonist started arguing with her aunt, and it was six kinds of awesome. I figured out three or four very important things in the hours before midnight, and fell asleep sometime later very happy. The magic happened, and now we can begin.

I got up grumbling this morning to see my daughter off to school and then laid down on the couch with my dog and my blanket and slept another 2 hours. I don't feel bad about doing that. I was working hard late last night.