If I weren’t the shy type that I am, I might share with you a photo of my desk right now. It’s stacked high with two desk calendars (for current year and next—this last because I remain hopeful that things will actually happen next year), research books for three separate works in progress (final edits for one, beginning of another, and rewrites for a third), itineraries for an April 2021 book tour, a never-ending to-do list that starts with a call to the vet for not just one, but two dogs with different ailments, a book I’m reading for another author for a cover blurb, and a stack of insurance and financial paperwork regarding the care of my elderly parents. Oh, and my laptop.
I’m not trying to impress anyone with my juggling abilities (notice how I didn’t mention the endless stream of texts from my children requesting advice on every subject from boyfriend communication to my laundry expertise or the hours of answering emails or creating Insta stories and witty Tweets required of any published author).
What’s strange about this scenario is that when I was growing up, my family’s nickname for me was “The Commandant” because I was so structured in everything I did. My clothes were organized by color in my closet and I always planned my outfits ahead of time. I had certain ways to do certain things—like which train car and which seat I would sit in for the two-stop ride to high school every morning and afternoon. I was never late with homework and although I was often late (trying to match my socks with my earrings), I never missed a class in high school or college.
I adhered to scheduling when raising my two children. They were fed, bathed, and put to bed at the same time each night following a familiar routine. They were also sleeping from eight PM to eight AM by the age of six weeks, so I must have been doing something right! Even now, my life is still pretty organized. Can you find a receipt for the dishwasher repair from three years ago? I can! But my desk and my writing process is another scenario entirely.
I think, deep down, chaos is hard-wired into my DNA. My mother was always very scattered, usually late for everything, unable to find things or remember where she was going. It drove me crazy. I think my “commandant” lifestyle was my rebellion against my genetic makeup. But these same genes are the only way I can explain my haphazard approach to writing.
My life would be a whole lot easier if I could be a methodical writer. A “plotter” instead of a “pantser.” Someone who did character sketches and outlined each scene and chapter. Who actually knew how a book was supposed to end when I started it. But I simply can’t write that way. Believe me, I’ve tried.
I have attempted outlining, and writing a synopsis—spending weeks getting it all plotted out—only to discover that once I knew how the book ended I’d lost interest in writing it. I’ve had characters morph into a completely different people than what I’d plotted, and watched helplessly as they headed in a different—and much more exciting—direction than I’d outlined. And poof—all my hard work of planning went away and I was back to making it up as I went along.
See Part 2 December 7