November 05, 2009

Obsessive Writer Stymied by NaNoWriMo Posted by Kate Flora In the early years of my writing, when I was first learning about discipline and obsession, I became very faithful to my schedule. Having come to writing from working in a law firm, where my time was measured out in tenth of an hour doses, and being the busy mother of two small boys, my writing time was limited and I knew I had to make it count. I had thought that I could write while the boys napped--very optimistic of me. I quickly discovered that their schedules rarely synchronized, and that I was most likely to have pieces of available time when they were with a babysitter. When I did have time to be at my desk, I was obsessive about being sure that I stayed there and made the time count. I'd assign myself a number of pages or a number of words that had to be accomplished that day, and wouldn't leave my chair until I reached that goal. During my ten years in the unpublished writer's corner, I got very good at discipline and a whole lot better at my craft. The boys got older and went to school. And with three unpublished novels in the drawer, I had learned to write. I happily settled into a routine where I would write while they were in school, and then shove the stories away while I drove them to little league or karate, while I coached soccer, and while I perfected my role as the homework police. Along the way, I learned that the process was different for each book. While storycraft and discipline were fundamental, each individual story and set of characters seemed to have their own rhythm. Sometimes a book would take a nice, tight nine months from start to finish and just seem to work. Another book would take a year and a half and some days feel like I was dragging out each word and nailing it to the page so it would stay there while I went back and got another word to go with it. Sometimes the plot that I'd worked out in my head before I began the book would stay the same; sometimes my characters, those willful creatures of my imagination, would start acting up and take the book in an entirely new direction. I learned to listen to my characters and trust them when they were being willful. I learned that at some point, in most books, I would lose my way--usually somewhere between chapter sixteen and chapter nineteen--and that eventually this would sort itself out and the book would get finished. Writing is a solitary occupation. It requires many, many hours spent all alone, in a room, living in your head. I turned out to be good at that. Possibly I have a low thirst for living. Certainly I can spend six to ten hours a day at my desk, year after year, and not feel deprived or lonely. I have learned that I have to cut the cord and leave the desk from time to time. And I also learned--most surprising of all--that though we become writers because we have a great capacity for solitude, once we are published, we are suddenly expected to become charming and polished public speakers. Outgoing. Articulate. Interesting. This can require a major mental shift, from that tight cocoon of writer and keyboard and imagination and character's voices inside the head, to an audience that needs to be entertained and enticed to buy a book. One of the most frequent comments I heard, when I joined the traveling author's circuit, was from people who used to say: "I've always wanted to write a book, and someday, when I have a free weekend, I'm going to." That really pushed my buttons. Here I was, day after day, month after month, and year after year, sitting there in my chair, trying to craft compelling fiction, and these people were going to do it in a weekend. Admittedly, everyone's process is different. There are authors who write much faster than I do. But I began to wonder how fast I could write a novel if I really pushed myself hard. Then came the empty nest shocker, and it pushed me over the edge. My older son was leaving for college. The younger, seeing that he was going to be left home alone with the homework police, promptly started applying to boarding schools, and within three weeks, I had one at Wesleyan and the other at Exeter. At first,I used to stand in their rooms and snivel. But we old yankees aren't really the sniveling type, and so I took a deep breath, and that January, I decided to see how fast I could write a novel. I wrote ten to twelve hours a day, every day, and in 4 1/2 months, I'd written a 485 page police procedural. It was as close as I've come to an ecstatic state in my writing. I lived and breathed that novel. Went eagerly to my desk every day to see what my characters were up to. And when it was done, when I'd typed THE END, and assumed I would go back to my usual, more rational, schedule, I realized that I was lonely and sad. I had become so obsessed with my characters, so close to them after spending every waking moment with them for months, that when the book was done, I felt like they'd deserted me. A few months later, I had to start the second book in the series so I could go back and spend more time with them. After my taste of obsession, I became more rational. Life, in the form of my mother's stroke and slow decline, and a 2 1/2 year project co-writing a true crime, made more demands on my time. I learned to balance my love of gardening and cooking with my love for living inside my head. But the urge toward obsession...
What Did I Ever Do Without The Discovery I.D. Channel? posted by Leann Sweeney I can't tell you how many times I've heard myself--and other writers--say, "If I wrote that in a novel no one would believe it." But that's what Discovery ID is all about. Delving into the unbelievable crimes that people commit. And giving me more motive material than I could ever come up with in a million years. Lately I've been watching lots of old episodes of Dateline and 48 Hours. These shows rarely focus on anything a thriller writer would be interested in. But OMG, they are a cozy writer's gold mine. Most of these episodes deal with crimes in small town America and involve infidelity, white collar crime and almost always murder. Don't get me wrong. They have profiled some of the more recent serial killer cases, like BTK, but even that case is a fascinating psychological study of a guy who would never make a great villain in a serial killer book. Too ordinary. He hid in plain sight. Like the killer does in a cozy. Oh, I forgot the taunting part about BTK. The taunting did do him in and that doesn't happen in a cozy. Most recently I watched a two hour saga about a woman in Ohio who had two boyfriends, seven children--oh, and a husband. She is a former beauty queen--rich and beautiful. And had been messing around for a long time. Even one of her kids belonged to a boyfriend, not her husband. One of said boyfriends killed the other. And she was tried for conspiracy. She was found guilty, had her verdict reversed on appeal and she is now a free woman. Too much drama for a cozy, I guess. But it's good to know that the stuff I think up isn't "way out there" or at the very least a stretch. When it comes to humans, I don't think there is a "stretch." There's plenty more I love about the ID channel. "Forensics: You Decide" is great for plotting. As a mystery writer, I have to be able to spin the possibilities of how and why a crime occurs. That's where the clues and red herrings come in when crafting a mystery. Misdirection by defense lawyers or misinterpretation of the evidence is fascinating to watch. And it happens enough to create a TV show about it. I like "Solved" because it follows a case in a very linear fashion from beginning to end. For me, writing in first person, linear is important. The heroine in my story as well as the reader get to see the evidence as it unfolds. And all the directions it can lead. Yup. Love "Solved." I haven't watched all the shows on ID--yet. But I'm about to check out the show about evil women. Every crime writer should brush up on their evil women. But I'm not so sure about the series they broadcast that deal with ghosts and psychics. I don't think I will be writing any stories like that. But I do enjoy a good autopsy program--even though I leave the gore out of my books. To know the reality of crime, the reality of violent death may not show up on the page, but to write an authentic story, to make it seem real, I need to see and hear and feel the pain some of those victims and families feel. So thank you Discovery I.D. You are a wonderful resource.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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