WIP: What a Good Week Looks Like

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I’m behind in the Pot Luck department, and I apologize.  But I’m also going to be behind in the WIP department too if I play catch-up first.  So, today, more or less on time, I’m doing WIP.

And there’s plenty of WIP to talk about.  It’s been a great week!  My Tupperware container (see my WIP post on Job Jar:  “Who’d a Thunk It?”) has become my friend.  Such a friend, in fact, that I’ve taken to calling it Tup.

Thanks to Tup, I’ve made substantial progress on the novel since my last WIP post.  The day I printed out the Eighteen Crossroads ms, I had just under 55,000 words.  Today, I have just under 61,000.  For some writers, six thousand words in ten days isn’t a lot—and even for me, I suppose it isn’t.  I mean, it does only break down to a rather piffling 600 words a day.  But what I’ve done in the past ten days is manage to send my Inner Editor on (what I hope will be a very long) vacation and get my butt in the chair and write.

Every.  Single.  Day.

And that’s not piffle.

In addition to the Butt-in-Chair success, another reason the 600 words a day pleases me so much is that it doesn’t all represent actual writing, since some of what I’ve done this week is revision.  Not the kind of procrastinating, time-wasting revision I so often used to find myself doing, but some very effective revision.  I remind myself that what I have here is a net 600 words a day.

I’m aware that many writing gurus eschew revision while one is still working on a first draft; Holly Lisle is one of them, and I have great respect for her and her methods.  But those gurus’ primary concern, I think, is with writers getting bogged down in unnecessary revision, whereas the revision I’ve done this week, far from bogging me down, has helped to move the book forward, so I’m pretty dang pleased about it.

I’ve also added fairly considerably to four stories this week (Josef’s, Tessa’s, Amelia’s, and John’s) and started three entirely new ones (Stan’s and Daphne’s, both of which I’d been planning for years but had never been able to force myself to sit down and actually start writing before Tup came along, plus an entirely new one for Tanna, which I had never planned to write at all), and I’ve also made substantial headway in my planning for Emma’s and Chatón’s, which are the only two left that I haven’t actually started writing.

But wait, that’s not all!  I also received my copy of The Adventure of Creation this week, and have been reading that, too.  And I haven’t read a single story yet that doesn’t make me feel very, very honored to have had one of my own chosen to be part of this collection.

Oh, yeah.  It’s been a good, good week.

WIP: Who’d a Thunk It?

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When my kids were small, we lived in a constant state of clutter. Most moms can probably understand this. Not pigsty clutter, just three-little-kids-and-not-enough-time clutter. I was a full-time student, and to be honest, raising three little boys really is like nailing Jello to a tree. But over time, I came up with a couple of fabulous fixes for the perpetual problem of trying to keep the house clean.

One of them was Job Jar. I confess, the idea wasn’t my own—I found it in my beloved Mother’s Almanac (by Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons, 1975), which was, and in my opinion continues to be, the most useful parenting book in the history of publishing, though it’s unfortunately now out of print. The concept is simple: On Saturday morning (or whenever you feel like it), you make a list of all the household chores that need to be done. Write each job on a separate little slip of paper, fold them up, and put them in a jar (or fishbowl, hat, cereal bowl, whatever’s handy). Starting with the youngest family member, have each participant choose one slip at a time until the bowl is empty. Nobody can open their slips until they’ve all been handed out. After the hilarity dies down (“OMG, Tyler’s gonna mop the floor? He’s THREE!”), each person does whatever jobs are on the slips s/he has chosen.

Oh yes, that’s for real. I will never forget the time Tyler got to mop the floor.

There was something about Job Jar that made my kids almost enjoy it. It made work into a game.

It also resulted in quality family time instead of trauma and threats, and it taught the kids to do all kinds of things, and it lessened my own burden. I saw no reason why boys shouldn’t know how to do laundry, dust, vacuum, mop, wash dishes, clean grout, wash windows, scour sinks. All of it.

Of course I had to accept that not all of the jobs would be done perfectly. Most of them weren’t done perfectly, in fact. Expectations of perfection went out the window. But the time Tyler got to mop the floor, though it wasn’t perfect, he was pleased with himself, and it got done again the following week.

And the house always wound up cleaner than it started.

You are wondering, no doubt, what all of this has to do with writing. This is WIP Day, after all.

Here it is: I’ve mentioned before that I have Real Issues with Butt-in-Chair Syndrome. My WIP is a composite novel, aka a short story cycle. It’s comprised of eighteen stories, each told from a different protagonist’s point of view. Several stories are finished (or as finished as they’re going to get until I have a complete first draft); a couple are complete but in need of major revisions; several are started but stuck; and a few aren’t even started, though I do know the plot basics.

When I sit down to write, however good my intentions might be, I often don’t know where to begin or which story to work on. I often go back to my default (research is my default—one can never know too much) while I wait for inspiration to strike.

Waiting for inspiration to strike is a profoundly unprofessional way to write, I’m told. But on Saturday it stuck in a very unexpected way.

I remembered Job Jar.

And I thought, Well, why not?

First, I made a list of the characters whose stories are stuck or aren’t written yet. (I didn’t include those that are in any way complete.) I wrote each name on a separate slip of paper and folded them up, and then, lacking a jar, I put them in a Tupperware container. Then I asked my husband to pick one, so I couldn’t cheat.

Of course he asked what I was doing.

I explained my plan to him: I would set a timer for ten minutes, and focusing on that character’s story, I would write until the timer went off. No prep, no planning, no research. Just writing. Ten minutes at a time. Butt In Chair.

I thought it sounded great. But he saw a snag.

“You’re not going to like the one I pick,” he said. “You’ll just put it back and tell me to pick a different one.”

I promised I wouldn’t.

So he reached in and pulled one out.

The one he picked was one of the “stuck” stories. And he was right—I was tempted to tell him to pick again. But I’d made a promise, so I sat down and opened the file on my laptop, read it through, and started fiddling.

And forgot all about the timer. It never even made it out of the kitchen.

Which is just as well, because far from spending only ten minutes on it, I wound up writing into the wee hours of that night. And it was writing I was happy with. By the time I went to bed, the story had taken a direction I hadn’t expected, and it now has a purpose beyond what I had originally planned for it.

It’s still not done, but it’s no longer stuck—I know where it’s going, even if I don’t know yet exactly where it will end up. And I can’t wait to get back to it.

So yeah, Job Jar. Who’d a thunk it?

What do you do when you’re suffering from Butt-in-Chair Syndrome? Any ideas to share?

Evelyne Holingue

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