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September 10, 2010

2,000 words a day

I'm fairly certain the only thing more boring than watching someone write is having to hear about someone writing. So I am posting this on a Sunday when no one is reading anyway. Who says I have lost all my manners?

It is an unfortunate truth that I am a world famous procrastinator. So for my first two books I spent many months procrastinating and sitting at the keyboard at 4 a.m. before work and just typing blog entries instead of book stuff. Finally in a panic of self-induced deadline hysteria I wrote each entire manuscript in a weeklong cram session, just hours before deadline. I do not recommend this method to anyone. It's horrible. You really stink by the end of three or four days and you look up and the house is covered in laundry and coffee cups and something has gone wrong with your ass because you've lost all the feeling in your legs.

Fiction is different, of course, because you finish the manuscript before you send it in, so there is no deadline other than hoping to one day complete said book, submit it and hopefully get a bite. (Unless you are an established writer, like my friend Karin who gets paid one million dollars to write something like eight books a year. She has an actual cabin in the woods. I am just saying.)

In my world, nonfiction is as easy as burping. It just happens. Maybe it's more like farting? Anyway, up it comes, all the words spin out and I can sit down in the morning to tell you about this funny thing that happened one time and by noon I've dumped out six chapters. Fiction is much harder for me. For one thing, I can't just sit down and write a whole novel in a day. All those years writing newspaper stories (3 p.m. deadline! File! File now!) trained me into a fast writer, if not a very good one. I look back fondly on my newspaper career, all my high-profile stories of tomato blight in Polk County and breaking news about the Junior League fashion show. And who could forget my compelling piece about the myriad of names submitted to the city council for the baby whale that washed ashore in Long Beach. Top-shelf, I tell you.

But I'm fast. You need an expose on bathroom fixtures today by 3 p.m.? I am on it like white on rice.

Fiction is goofier. Apparently I still have delusions of grandeur, hoping I will write something great. So, like I told you last week, when I sat down in June to Write Something Magnificent, I choked. Nothing happened. I found myself sitting at my desk watching hours of crap on youtube. It is truly amazing the vastness of time-sucking videos you can watch on youtube.

Then in August something bad happened (no details, just bad) and I coped the way I do best: I went into my head. I started one of my Walter Mitty fantasies and detailed it down to the shoes and one night after several glasses of pinot grigio I started typing it up and voila! I had me a story.

I had several days where I spilled out big chunks of typing, 7,000 words at a time but then I wouldn't go back to it for a few days. Like it was too much at once or something. This month I decided to take a different approach. I think everyone has to figure out stuff as they go along, you know. So maybe this is me figuring it out. I have a huge calendar on my desk, one of those desk-blotter things, but I have it propped up against the wall. I was staring at it last week and realized I only had to write about 2,000 words a day for the rest of September to have my trashy little adventure manuscript done by end of month.

So that's the plan, Stan. I'm going to see how it goes (so far it's working well) and then I can re-adjust, maybe set a time for it or something. What I've been doing lately is sitting down in the evening with my laptop and a glass of white wine (with two ice cubes, do not ask why, I am a weird creature) and I type up a piece of the story.

My biggest obstacle with the idea of a whole book was just the frustration that I can't sit down and write an entire fiction story in one sitting. I'd be plodding away at one chapter and I'd want it to be done already, get to the good stuff! So I am writing it in pieces now. I've thought the story all the way through (hmmm, maybe August spent in my head wasn't a waste after all?) and now I do one "scene" a day. Like today is the scene in the police department. So it's still like being a columnist or a reporter, filing your story by end of day. But all my little pieces will connect for a single book. I'm even doing them each in separate documents, a plan which seems a little overly elaborate now that I say it out loud but I like the staccato rhythm to it.

I have absolutely no idea why I am boring you with this. Go watch football! I know there are a few other writers out there, though. Apparently I got kind of hung up on this idea that I had to write something great instead of just writing for the fun of it. I had to remind myself who I am and that my first book has the word drunk in the title. Maya Angelou, you have nothing to worry about from me. I never really cared if I was a great nonfiction writer, I just liked telling stories. So why is a made-up story any different?

Now my little typing time is the best part of the day. I love it. I think about it beforehand, like I'll be driving to the store and realize in my head I'm in the story. Yesterday I finished the piece where Charlene has the gun and when I typed up the last sentence for the day and saved my file (2,467 words) I was just pleased as pie. Alone in my house, cat conked out on my leg, sitting on the floor at the coffee table wearing a dorky T-shirt and drinking my white wine with two ice cubes. I think I accidentally found my perfect day.

Now that is something.

Posted by laurie at September 10, 2010 12:33 PM