One of the coolest things about being a writer, besides being able to work in pajamas when I choose to, is the time I get to spend in other people’s heads and in other people’s lives. Sounds a bit creepy when I see it on the page. Trust me, it was more profound in my head. And that, my friends, is one of the most difficult aspects of being a writer: translating clear thoughts into clear words.
Writing for me is cyclical, much like the year or the phases of the moon. I write every day now—although that small effort toward consistency and continuity does NOT extend to answering e-mail—whether it’s for one hour or for six. By writing I mean tail in the chair, tapping out words on a current project.
So how is writing like the cycle of the year or the moon? Well, that first, I’ve got a grand idea and it’s going to be the greatest story I’ve written yet, burst of energy I have through the first ten or so chapters is a lot like the euphoria I feel on January 2nd every year after I’ve kept my New Year’s Resolution for 24 whole hours; hope, commitment and that sense of joy and accomplishment flow ripe with the certainty that spring along with the extra minutes of sunshine each day will help me sail through this novel and this year like none before.
By the end of February and the first third of whatever story I’m working on, I’m pretty sure spring is a precocious flirt with no intention of ever putting out. By March and the second third of my story, it’s still snowing and wind-chill is still very much on the horizon (I live in Wisconsin and this is no joke... It’s snowing as I’m typing).
By the end of March and the completion of the first 2/3rds of my story, things change rapidly. I type like a wild-woman trying to reach the end because once again I’m too excited not to. Those three to six hours a day typing become six to eight then eight until I can’t see the screen clearly. This is the time of year when I can go to sleep one evening and no green is popping in a garden covered in a wet blanket of last fall’s last leaf holdouts and wake up to robins in the yard and the first bulbs emerging.
Of course that’s just the first step for me, because no matter how cleanly I think I write, the reality is my work needs editing. Badly. And repeatedly. After the initial edits that puppy goes off to Beta readers before coming back for final edits. On the day it goes out, I play outside and gear up for the next story.
For me, summer comes when it sells and I get paid. Since I like to eat, getting paid is the best part for me.
In autumn, the process starts again.
So what’s with the whole being in someone else’s head and life thing? That’s not writing, at least it isn’t for me, that’s plotting and research. Sitting in the coffee shop listening to snippets of conversation. Not smacking the woman treating her children like property, but putting her in a book and naming her after your childhood nemesis. Watching an aging, but distant, relative slip into a land only he or she can understand, or your three year old niece chase a butterfly while her new puppy tries valiantly to help. To make compelling stories from these everyday events takes a willingness to open one’s self to the way others define themselves, and a willingness to place oneself in their shoes. Sometimes we treat our characters with empathy. Sometimes we don’t. Either way, I think that too is one of the more honest things—and by definition for me one of the best things—about being a writer.
Fantasy comes in....always. The worlds we create whether small-town, big-city or middle-earth-esque, are all products of imagination. Jim Butcher’s Chicago is like no one else’s Chicago. Every romance I’ve ever read (or written) is a work of fantasy to one extent or another. For example, I just watched the Veronica Mars movie last night. No one...I mean no one is that quick with the one liners. For those of you Lee Child fans, I very much doubt Jack Reacher travels without deodorant...only a toothbrush? Yeah, right. Fantasy, pure and simple.
The best fiction involves defining identity, empathetic reaction—or lack thereof—and fantasy. So does everyday life.
However you write, however you live, may your story (or stories) sing! And may spring come to Wisconsin sometime this year.