Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Time to Write — But What?

September 25, 2012

So I just finished a huge project for a magazine that assigns me stories about four times a year. The projects are crazy complicated, involving tons of emails and phone calls, long interviews, close examinations of product features, and surveys of prices at a range of retail stores and websites. I may have a byline when the issue comes out, but truth be told, there’s a lot less writing and a lot more research when it comes to this particular magazine. 

Anyway, it’s kept me tied up — no exaggeration — since mid-June. And when things felt a little tedious during the long, hot summer, the thought of free time to write my own stuff kept me going. No more assignments at least until winter, I promised myself. September through November would be my time to work on exactly what I wanted to work on.

But, now that September is here — what, exactly, do I want to work on?

It’s not that I have no ideas — it’s just that I’ve been imagining so many projects since June that I don’t know which to concentrate on. Now I’m not saying that any of these ideas are good or will eventually be completed (or deserve to be completed, for that matter); but even though I’m not now on someone else’s clock, time is still limited, and I want to make the most of the time I have.

So…do I work on the novel that’s nearly done, on the theory that this idea takes priority because it’s (arguably) the easiest to complete?

Or do I work on the idea that’s got my imagination going, even though, at least for me, new ideas always take the most time and show the least progress. 

Do I leverage my research from this summer to develop some new magazine queries, since these ideas are the most likely to find their way into print?

Or do I play around with some genre — romance? paranormal? — that I’ve been tempted to try for a while?

Lately I’ve taken to doing a little of everything, hoping that one of these ideas will emerge as the one I truly want to pour myself into.

But I don’t know if that will actually happen — and for now, none of these ideas is gaining any momentum. And November is not that far away.

With life so busy, how do you decide what you want to work on? 

Another undecided day in the life of just another working writer. 

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Writers: How Much Do You Daydream?

April 4, 2012

Last winter, we were driving along an endless stretch of highway on our way to the Poconos for a vacation, when my husband started asking me about some home repairs we were planning.

“Stop, wait,” I said, holding the palm of my hand up toward him. “I can’t talk right now. I’m working on something.”

He laughed and shook his head as he turned his eyes back toward the road. He knew exactly what I meant. I was working with some characters on a scene.

Specifically, I was watching what my main character was going to do with her cell phone to ensure that she wouldn’t answer it during lunch. You see, I had recently begun working on a novel I had put away for a few years ago, back when cell phones were still a novelty. In my original manuscript, my main characters sneaks off to New York for an afternoon to have lunch with a secret acquaintance, but comes back to serious consequences because her kids were not able to reach her. These days, however, they could just call her on her cellphone. So I needed to find a way she could still be unavailable.

In my head, I watched her forget her cell phone on the kitchen counter as she leaves the house. But no, I thought, that would be totally out of character, as she never takes it out of her purse. I watched her grab for a different purse for this special lunch–but then she’d have to transfer her wallet to the new purse, and she’d clearly transfer her cell phone as well. Could she accidentally turn her phone off? I gave that one a try — but when I watched her do that, it didn’t feel real. She’s a pretty intentional kind of person, and she doesn’t make careless, accidental mistakes.

Put it on mute? Maybe. I saw her stop in front of the restaurant, open the purse, find her cellphone, and purposefully turn off the sound. But why would she do that? She wasn’t expecting any calls, and if her kids were to call her, it would be because of any emergency, and she’d want to answer. Although… how about if she didn’t hear the phone? Say her purse was on the floor and the restaurant was one of those loft-type spaces with background noise, and she had a little buzz because she wasn’t used to drinking wine at lunch and she was really into her lunch companion? Now, that could work, I thought, as I sat back and watched her sip her Pinot Grigio.

The two-hour road trip ended in a flash, and as our car pulled up in front of our hotel, I put my character away. I wasn’t quite done with her, but that was okay. I would no doubt visit with her again before the day was over.

I daydream all the time. I’m constantly living in my head. Sometimes I do it on purpose, and sometimes it happens on its own. But either way,  it’s far from a burden; in fact, I really enjoy it. When I’m watching TV and the commercials come on, I play a scene out. When I’m on line at the grocery store, I listen to dialogue. When I’m walking at the track, I’m writing an article, envisioning the anecdote I’m telling or just watching the words on an imaginary magazine page. I read them to myself, change a word here or there, and then read it over again a few times to memorize it,  so I can write it down later (although it never sounds as good on paper as it did in my head).

At the gym last week while panting in step class, I watched a juicy scene from a new story I may write. I pictured a campfire burning on a warm spring evening when my heroine learns that the man she loves is engaged to someone else. I saw her lean against a tree and look into the night sky. I heard the guy walk up behind her and plead with her to trust him and give him a chance to straighten out his life. Is he persuasive? I watched the scene over and over, changing his words, lengthening his pauses, adding gestures that would make both my heroine and me believe that yes, he is worth waiting for.

I daydream sometimes when I’m having coffee with someone who’s launched into a blow-by-blow description of the fight she just had with her boss, mother, or Cablevision agent. I can do this, you see, because I’ve acquire the ability to snap back into the conversation when I sense that an important part is coming. Usually I’m pretty good at getting the gist of the conversation. I may miss the details, but at least my friend has gotten everything off her chest and I’m not jumping out of my skin.

I daydream sometimes when I’m supposed to be listening to my kids, nodding so they won’t catch on. But they do. They’re not fooled. They know I’m somewhere else. They get really mad.

My husband, on the other hand,  just smiles and shakes his head and lets me be until I’m ready to rejoin him. Now, that’s gotta be love.

How about you? Do you watch your characters throughout the day? Do you think writers live in their minds more than other people?

Another dreamy day in the life of just another working writer.

Article Assignments: Why Do I Keep Saying Yes?

January 13, 2012

So one of my best clients emailed me toward the end of last summer to offer me two major article assignments. The pay was relatively good, and I was skilled at the type of research and interviewing that would be required.

I hesitated, however, to accept the work, as I estimated that it  would fill my working time for the next four months. I wouldn’t be able to accept other assignments, prospect for new assignments or clients, or–most important–devote time to my favorite new project.

You see, I had  spent much of the summer working on my first young adult novel, and I was having a blast. I loved the freedom of fiction writing. I loved making stuff up, which was refreshing after so many years of stressing accuracy and sticking to the facts. I found my characters fascinating, especially my spunky 11-year-old protagonist, and I loved throwing obstacles at her and figuring out how she would get through.

Still, as a working writer, I couldn’t see turning down the work. I needed the paychecks. I wanted the money. I promised myself that I would work for the four months–but then I would slow down and give myself the luxury of time to work on my novel.

So now the four months are now almost over, I’ve got just two more days’ work at the most, and the reward of time to write fiction is so close, I can taste it.

And then, out of the blue, So another client called yesterday to offer me a basic product story. What do you think I did?

You’re right — I said yes.

Why.

Of course, a big part of it is the paycheck. I can’t deny that. But I think there’s more.

I think I said yes partly because I always overestimate the time it will take me to do stuff. I’m often convinced that I can make time to both do my paying work and have my writing fun. The truth is, I rarely do. The paying work always takes over.

I also think I said yes partly because even though I complain a lot about tedious assignments, the truth is I get a kick out of article writing — interviewing business executives, motivating them to reveal some tidbit of news or surprising comment, boiling down research into the assigned wordcount, hearing “good job!” from an editor.

But I think I also said yes because writing fiction is so…unpredictable. It takes a lot out of you. Maybe it’s because I’m new at it and I’m not very good, but it sometimes feels like an uphill battle to get started on a page. Once I get going, it becomes great fun, but before I sit down at the computer, I feel so doubtful. Will I write something great today? Am I getting anywhere? Would anyone else love this the way I do? Is this just a big time waster?

I don’t have those fears with my paid work.

Still, if I keep pushing off my fiction, I’ll never find out if it could amount to anything at all.

I see the days and weeks and months passing, and I wonder if I’m spending my time in the best way, or just the safest way.

How do you choose the way to spend your writing time?

Another conflicted day in the life of just another working writer.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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