Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Writing My Way Out of the Maze by Jess Riley

Hi! So, this posting cycle’s topic is pretty timely for me: “Lost in the Cornfield Maze.” I actually feel like my work-in-progress has me somewhere in the middle of the hedge maze in The Shining and Jack’s on the loose, but on with the story.

Last summer I was laid off. It turned out to be temporary, but I immediately strapped myself into my office chair, rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to write my way out of dying in a Dickensian debtor’s prison.
So I wrote. And I wrote. By August, I had nearly a hundred pages of fairly decent material cobbled together. But at that point, three things happened: 1) I was offered three freelance editing jobs that I’d be crazy to pass up; 2) I was offered my old job back; and 3) the novel I’d worked on for more than a decade and released in July had sold barely enough copies to pay for my publicist.

So I stopped working on my novel, at least for the ten-month grant writing season ahead of me. I shelved those hundred pages. I needed a break from thinking about any of it, and I needed to focus on things that actually paid my bills and kept me out of that Dickensian debtor's prison. But over the last few months, I didn't forget about the story—I squirreled away ideas and notes as they came to me, anticipating the month of July when I could dust off my project and finish it.

This July arrived. And when I looked at my manuscript, I got a headache. What was I thinking, writing science fiction? Or featuring four—maybe more!—point-of-view characters? With myriad connections? And interwoven past lives? And a multi-state setting in the year 2060?!

I re-read the whole thing and was surprised that I liked it better than I remembered. But I knew I was lost. I needed to storyboard this beast—color-code characters, including their back stories (and past lives!) and physical appearances and motivations. I needed to outline whose chapter came next, and what would happen in it. I needed to remember what season it was, for crying out loud. There were so many loose ends and bits of incomprehensible nonsense it was like a knitting factory had exploded inside that horrible new Scarlett Johansson movie.

The big picture was overwhelming. So I lost most of July to procrastination. Reading. Gardening. Planning a kitchen and bath reno. Having fun with friends and family. You know, what most people would call living. It was fantastic.

But in the back of my head, I knew I needed to at least finish a decent chunk of the novel, plus a synopsis, if only so I can send it to my agent and see if this sucker has legs. It’s the hardest and strangest and most exciting thing I've ever written. I could have walked away, but it's speaking to me again, and I'm too curious to see what happens next.

So I am butt-in-chair. It’s the only way. I tell myself, Just two pages a day. Bit by bit. Finish your outline and map things visually near your desk. And write your way out of the damn maze.

PS: Do any of you use Scrivener? I have it, but I felt like I needed to storyboard the tutorial and then pour myself a huge glass of wine and play Plants vs. Zombies until my brain stopped buzzing.

~~~~~
Jess Riley is the author of Driving Sideways, All the Lonely People, and Mandatory Release. She is currently remodeling her kitchen, bathroom, and novel-in-progress all at once because she loves a challenge.

6 comments:

  1. Oh, procrastination, I know her well. First, let me say how impressed I am that you can properly use the word Dickensian (I used it in my second book and my copy editor at Berkley had a field day with it!). As for Scrivener, no. I plot/outline the old fashioned way--in pen and paper notebook. Best of luck with the new book, Jess!

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  2. Oh I know those kind of corn mazes! It's called life, ha. Butt in chair is the only way, but oh sometimes hard to stay there. Good luck on your latest!
    -Dana

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  3. Maria, I laughed out loud at your Dickensian comment. Isn't that a fun word?!

    Thanks for the comment, Dana! (And the luck!) Yes, the chair is all. :)

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  4. Argh... Blogger was giving me a fit this morning. It must know I have its days numbered! Anyway... fantastic post, Jess! I love hearing how you just knew you'd come back to it, and how not even "real life" deterred you!

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  5. I use Scrivener...but I feel like I'm using a microwave to heat water....so much there! But I stick to what I know, and it works for me.

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