I’ve been lucky this past year… and got rather accustomed to waking up, getting to work, enjoying my days. This is no small thing for someone who’s spent an embarrassingly large amount of time not writing because she didn’t feel happy enough to be writing. Divorce, a house fire, family and health issues—you name it. If there was a crisis, I felt it. I suppose that being overly sensitive can be considered a good thing for a writer, but the fact is, too much sensitivity and a tendency to slide into the mud of depression are anathema to a writer’s productivity.
So I’m grateful for the relative calm of the past year. I’m grateful that I’ve found ways to write that work for me. And I’m a bit nervous because this week, I felt the mudslide quiver.
I recently took my 92-year-old mother for medical tests; we’ll learn the results in two days. I’ve been anxious as heck since the tests, far more than she seems to be. And there’s been a hiccup in my lovely streak of productivity. Oh, I’ve managed to write most every day. But only for an hour rather than three or four. And I’ve spent a lot more time worrying than working.
I finished a good draft of my latest story based on a Thomas Hart Benton painting last week and have shared it with my writing group and an editor. I’m looking forward to getting their comments and revising. And this morning I started a new Thomas Hart Benton story. I almost felt driven to start it. I’d exercised, meditated, walked the dog… and even though part of me wanted to wallow in what-ifs about Mom, I found the painting I wanted to use as a prompt and started researching. I’m at the very beginning of the process with this new story, but I am so happy to say it kept me totally engaged. It kept my anxiety at bay. Or at least at a manageable level where I could forget about it for a while.
After writing, there was that familiar temptation to give in. Or give up. What I did instead was open up James Patterson’s Masterclass on Writing that’s been advertised recently on Facebook. I’ve never read a James Patterson novel in my life and truth be told, I know there’s a snobby part of me that wouldn’t deign to. But I figured he might have some interesting things to say, and it would be a far better way to spend my time than other possible choices.
Yes, a lot of what he said was basic. But I didn’t know how charming Patterson could be and how genuinely encouraging he seemed to be to writers, at all stages of their careers. He seemed like a really nice, sharp guy. And certainly an awesomely productive one.
Here are a few take-aways:
1. Character is always revealed through action.
2. Write every chapter as though it is the first.
3. Write for a single reader who’s sitting across the desk from you reading your book.
4. Remember E.M. Forster’s admonition that “A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died, and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” The time sequence is preserved, but the idea of causality overshadows it.
5. Get the story down first; polish it later.
This last is really good advice I always need to remember.
So yep, I’m feeling anxious about my Mom, who always saves the Book Review section of the New York Times for me and with whom I first fell in love with books. I’m trying to use both her and James Patterson as role models: Be a trouper, and keep writing no matter what.