Because my wonderful bride took the time to be with her sister while the latter recovered from elective surgery, I had the house and dogs to myself for over a week. I also had a deadline for my work-in-progress. Failure to finish the first draft before I begin teaching this fall, meant I either wouldn’t have the book ready in time for Christmas, or I wouldn’t get any sleep in October and November.
But, see, I like sleep. A lot.
So, I wrote. A lot. Something like 35,000 words in eight days. I finished the initial draft, and now I’m doing one last edit before I share it with First Readers. Now, as hard as this will be to believe, I’m not bragging. Yes, I’m damned proud of writing so much, so fast, and I’m pleased with the outcome. But what matters to me more is that I trusted myself enough to do it without a safety net. In other words: no outline. [I can hear the sharp intake of breath. Stop laughing, dammit!]
A Primitive in Paradise (my working title), has more story lines than a teenager caught in the act–any act. And, when I began, I had no idea how I would tie them all together at the end. Ya see, I like neat, tidy bows on stories, and I take Twain’s definition of denouement seriously (it’s the point in a story where “the marryin’ and buryin'” take place). So, not having an inkling about where it was all headed had me more than just concerned. It scared me shitless!
Sorry. (Writerly technical term. I’ll try to do better.)
When working on my previous books, I generally had some kind of outline, however minimal, to work from. At the very least, I had a vague idea of what the ending would entail. Not this time.
I can see my writer pals now–all the “pantsers” anyway*–nodding sagely as if to acknowledge that I just discovered the blindingly obvious. But what they’re probably acknowledging is their familiarity with laying awake nights trying to figure out how to get Character N from Point Alpha to Point Zed, preferably alive. And where did he/she pick up the key to unlock the unholy portal that allowed the dragon with flammable halitosis to barbecue Kennebunkport and parts of downtown Dooberville?
Now, imagine seven or eight additional scenarios involving players on various parts of the planet who each encounter life and death struggles. Add a dash of conflicting time lines, a pinch of phobia about technical accuracy, and an addiction to bizarre humor. Tie all that
shit stuff together in shiny paper and silky ribbon? No problem!
[See Josh talking to the clerk at the Writer’s Magic Market: “Lessee now, I need a bag of original one-liners, a squeeze bottle of literary libido sauce, and a hero generator. Oh, and a perpetual motion machine, too. Just toss it all in with the bourbon and the sweet vermouth.”]
The point is, sometimes risk-taking is a good thing. Sometimes it pays off. The trick is to recognize when you’ve made it to a place that’s outside your comfort zone but still a safe distance away from that place where madness reigns.
* “Pantsers” are folks who write from the seat of their pants. (And no. I haven’t completely joined that club, yet.)