On Writing – Plotting, Focus and my Little Red Book

I spent yesterday afternoon in bed. I felt awful; slight headache but not approaching migraine, Thank God. Nauseous. Tired, but not sleepy. So, I lay in a dark room, eyes closed, and let the novel I’m working on play out in my head.  First came the scenes I’m excited to write, the central relationship. These took up a majority of the afternoon, morphing from one idea to the next until I figured out the specific scenes, the arc of the story. I also realized this relationship, which I was going to stretch out over a few novels, should happen now for a couple of reasons. One, it parallels a relationship in the central mystery. Two, by stretching the relationship out over multiple novels I am doing the very thing I loathe in series novels. I always say the real drama is what happens after two people embark on a relationship. I need to illustrate that instead of falling into the will they or won’t they well of hoary plot devices.

The interpersonal stuff was easy to figure out, honestly, and much more fun to think about than the pesky details of murder, conspiracy and blackmail. Without the pesky details of murder, conspiracy and blackmail, I just have a romance novel I could write in a week. Some days I think I should just chunk everything else and write it as a romance. It would be fun and people would love it. Maybe one day I will write a full-on romance, but that isn’t the point of this story, it is just the fringe benefit of it. So, I left my darkened room, dug through my purse for my handy red moleskin notebook, jotted down the relationship arc, closed the book, clicked off the light and lay down again, forcing myself to think of murder, conspiracy and blackmail and push all thoughts of sex, desire, love and jealousy from my mind. Shockingly, it did not take nearly as long to untie the knotted plot as I thought it would. The answer was ridiculously simple, logical and perfect.

If I hadn’t been in bed, sick, I don’t know how long it would have taken me to figure this novel out. Chances are, I would have kept writing, making false progress. I would have finished the novel, put it aside for two weeks and when I returned to it, I would have seen that it still didn’t make sense, that it wasn’t finished at all. Why did it take a sick room to get it done? Because I allowed myself to think only about the work. I didn’t care about the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, what I was going to cook for dinner, laundry, Christmas presents that need to be bought, what I am going to wear to a party tonight, my kids spending too much time on electronics. The fact is, even though I carve out time to write every day, I have a difficult time pushing everything else out of my mind to focus completely on my work. I am sure there are a plethora of reasons why but the primary reason is that no matter how dedicated I am, I won’t allow myself to treat this as a job – the responsibility that supersedes all but the most pressing family obligations – until I sell something. Until I can say, “I’m working” and people believe it. Until I believe it. I’m never going to stop writing, or thinking about writing, or planning my next book. But, pushing everything else out of my mind, being selfish to get it done…right or wrong, that will require being published.

I have 16 days to finish this novel. Now that I have figured it all out, that I have my road map, I know I can get it done. That’s the good news. The bad news is practically everything I wrote two years ago is useless. It looks like this novel will be like my historical fiction; I will write two and a half books worth of prose to get the one, perfect story. If I’m as happy with this one as I am with my historical fiction, I can live with that.


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