Yeah, I know. I wrote a post called Writing and Leisure, and then I disappeared. But I am not in Tahiti. Not even DisneyWorld. I’ve been parked on this couch writing, and the writing goeth swimmingly, and all is right with the world. More on this later.
For now, behold: This is me writing the first draft of a new chapter.
Step One: Read previous chapter to get the flow of the story so far. Resist impulse to change “just this one word.” That way madness lies. Not to mention the rest of the day.
Step Two: Sit in rocking chair with notebook (spiral, not computer) and pen. Jot down thoughts about new chapter: setting, action, conflict, characters’ motivations, brilliant flashes of insight. If no brilliant flashes of insight, draw arrows between notes. Arrows make me feel smart.
Step Three: Go downstairs. Heat mug of milk for Ghirardelli white chocolate drink. This is a Ritual and must not be skipped under any circumstances. If we’re out of milk, whine. Get over it and pour a glass of cranberry juice instead.
Step Four: Boot up laptop. Open new document. With great efficiency, format header and page numbers. Type chapter title. Realize with small shock that now I actually have to start writing.
Step Five: Go back to chapter title and underline it.
Step Six: Get up to let dogs out.
Step Seven: Type a paragraph.
Step Eight: Delete paragraph except one phrase that’s kind of cool.
Step Nine: Delete phrase.
Step Ten: Let dogs back in.
Step Eleven: Stare at laptop screen. Decide that what I really need to do is more research. Immediate burst of happiness. Realize that happiness means that research is, in fact, the last thing I need to do. Stare at laptop screen some more.
Step Twelve: Remove cat(s) from napping position across laptop and both forearms (an attractive position to cat because arms have been so motionless as to seem completely inert.) Push away when he/they try to climb back on.
Step Thirteen: Phrase in character’s voice floats through head. Scramble after it, pin it down. If dog starts barking or phone starts ringing and concentration is lost, woe betide. WOE. That means you, Ginny.
Step Fourteen: Write next sentence. Resist impulse to immediately delete. Repeat until manage to string together approximately 1000 words. When stuck,* go check email on upstairs computer. Come right back. Resist impulse to play “just one game” of Scrabble.
Step Fifteen: Save document. Savor feelings of achievement and virtue. Proudly report word count to spouse when he gets home from work.
Writing the first draft of a new chapter, Days Two to…?
Step One: Read the previous day’s work. Delete approximately seven hundred of the thousand words.
Step Two: Drink most of hot Ghirardelli white chocolate drink. Feel marginally better.
Step Three: Repeat Steps Five through Fifteen until chapter is complete. Resist impulse to spend most of each day polishing first three pages to a high gloss while ignoring the fact that the rest of the chapter isn’t yet written. As needed, buy new tins of Ghirardelli. Try not to run out of milk.
Now that you’ve seen how to write the first draft of a chapter, the next stage is writing the first draft of an entire novel. Which you might assume would be simply repeating the above process over and over. But wait, grasshopper! Flaming eyes of danger lurk in that tall grass. Stay tuned.
*The varying levels of stuck are commonly recognized as:
Level 1: Five minutes spent checking email or wandering aimlessly through the house is enough to achieve unstickage. Writer returns promptly and happily to manuscript. Some experts believe that this is not actual stickage, but simply a pause to refresh.
Level 2: Writer cannot resist urge to play Scrabble game. Writer vows to return to manuscript after one game. Okay, two games, because the computer opponent cheated. Writer wins. Order to universe is restored. Writer smugly returns to manuscript.
Level 3: Writer finishes Scrabble game(s). Realizes it’s been over an hour since last checking previous novel’s Amazon.com ranking. Writer checks. Writer becomes surly. Writer spends an hour reading blogs and/or updating Facebook +/- Twitter. Writer reluctantly returns to manuscript.
Level 4: Writer decides checkbook must be balanced without delay.
Level 5: After balancing checkbook, writer willingly cleans bathroom and/or cat litter.
Level 6: Writer’s house is spotlessly clean. Lawn is mowed, dogs are bathed, bills are paid and this year’s tax receipts are sorted and filed. Oh look, it’s late. Time to make dinner.
Level 7: Some experts believe Level 7 stickage does not exist. (No doubt these are the same cockeyed optimists who doubt the validity of Level 1.) Among novelists, however, it is commonly believed that no one knows what happens at Level 7 because no writers so afflicted have successfully found their way back to their manuscripts. Keep a candle burning in the window for these lost souls. (Metaphorically, of course. No sense setting fire to the drapes.)