Monday, March 12, 2012

Game face

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the difference between writers and wannabe writers is that writers write. They sit their butts in the chair and scratch away in a notebook or hammer away at a keyboard. Most of it’s crap. Most of it you will never get to see, and you should rejoice in that fact. Writers know that it’s their job to pull diamonds out of dungheaps, and that most of the dung will be theirs.

All writers know this. But this week I was reminded.

I think of my “normal” writing pace as three chapters a week. That’s first-draft speed; my revision speed varies widely. But in an average seven-day period, I can usually hammer out three 2,000-to-4,000-word chunks of whatever story I’m working on. Call it the product of several years of writing for people I saw every day; I developed one hell of a first-draft work ethic.

But this week, I got handed a little extra motivation.

I’m currently running chapters of The Novel past a lovely writing circle called SandScribes that meets every other Tuesday night in Huntington Beach. The group is a nice mix of writers and illustrators, all with an interest in producing books for young readers—from picture books for preschoolers to novels for young adults. I came blundering into the group in December so I could get The Novel whipped into shape and tell prospective agents that I’d run it past a serious writing circle.

And at the rate of one polished chapter every two weeks, I could just about handle the workload. I had to send chapters in a week before each meeting so people would have time to read them, but I didn’t mind that. One of my fellow writers had even complimented me on my work ethic, and told me I was encouraging her to work harder on her own book just to keep up with the new kid. She clearly didn’t realize how slowly everything was moving for me this time around!

Then they changed the schedule. One member of the group needed to shift the alternate-Tuesdays arrangement to the other set of alternate Tuesdays, with the result that last Tuesday’s meeting will be immediately followed by this Tuesday’s meeting. And almost every head at the table turned my way, and someone asked, “So, do you think you can send us another chapter by Friday?”

And being myself, I said, “Sure. No problem.”

Of course, there was a problem. I was trying to finally finish the first draft of The Novel so I could start revising the whole darn thing, en banc, and send it out to my group of beta readers. I had three chapters to finish that week, and as of Tuesday I’d only written one. I knew my undiagnosed OCD wouldn’t let me work on revising Chapter 4 (the chapter I happened to need for next Tuesday) until I’d finished writing Chapters 19 and 21. (I’d written Chapter 20 the night before, in a rare deviation from strict chapter order.) How was I supposed to polish up the beginning of my story while my head was full of its ending?

But there’s no motivation like an audience. Chalk it up to my years in amateur dramatics; you shove me out onstage and I feel absolutely compelled to do something entertaining, lest I be booed off. I was once stranded onstage during a production of Our Town, dressed as the Stage Manager, with absolutely no lines; I’d just finished my monologue, and of the two actors who were supposed to be in the scene after mine, one couldn’t be found and the other wandered onstage alone, gave me a meaningful look, and froze artfully in place. I improvised an entire monologue on the spot so the audience wouldn’t realize what had happened. I think I doubled the size of the imaginary town of Grover’s Corners, and I know I went on for quite a while about crickets. So when a few trusting souls turn to me and say, “You can meet this deadline—right?” … I really have no choice.

Chapter 19 was like ripping out my own fingernails, but I wrote it in a haze of caffeinated tea (mostly the Watson Blend from Adagio). Chapter 21 turned out to have half of it sitting around in a notebook, but the rest I scrawled out in a different notebook and then I attacked the whole thing at the keyboard until it cried uncle. I hammered out the revisions on Chapter 4 as the day was ending, and sent it out to the writing circle with half an hour left in Friday.

I honestly can’t remember half of what I did, except for the bit where I was pounding the printout of Chapter 4 with my fist in excitement because it was finally working. Over the weekend, I started working on the full-book revisions. Tomorrow night, I’ll find out whether Chapter 4 was as good as I thought or not. But it’s great to be working with a deadline, and an audience. Genius is 99% perspiration, they say—and in my case, it’s probably flop sweat. 

And soon I’ll have to start banging out Volume 2 of Masks. After all, I can’t disappoint my audience …


  1. An audience and a deadline DOES help! Because the show must go on, and you can't break character! If I was a writer, I would come up with a metaphor involving tap dancing on something precarious. Can't wait to read The Novel. --Amber

  2. You'd know all about that, wouldn't you, Amber?

    (Everybody, Amber was in that production of Our Town with me, and was there for the infamous Night of the Crickets Monologue.)

    1. I think I was even frozen onstage at the time, or waiting backstage. Or up a ladder. There was a lot of hanging around on ladders in that production. --Amber

    2. An AWFUL lot of hanging around on ladders. They didn't look very sturdy, either. I was very, very glad I never had to climb one ...

  3. Does Sandscribes still meet? I'm a long-ago member that's been trying to reconnect but can't find any webpage. Thanks!

    1. Hello, Jonathan! Yes, SandScribes still meets; they have a Yahoo group for the latest news and stuff. The page is here:

      For info on the current meeting schedule, you'll want to contact Sue Welfringer and/or Dawne Knobbe. I e-mailed them through the Yahoo group when I first found the page, and they got me set up in short order.