Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Juggling Cats

It is once again the most exciting day of the week. Work In Progress Wednesday!

And my WIP is coming along. I've been plodding along--I mean, plotting along. The prologue is gone. The rough draft is getting written (not as fast as I'd hoped, but it is getting written). And it will definitely need more work, but that's okay.

Writing fiction can feel a lot like juggling cats. And if any of you have ever tried to get a cat to do something it didn't want to do, then you will really get this analogy.

*Note: No cats were harmed in the making of this blog. And as I was looking for this picture I found a site where people are up in arms about cat juggling. I in no way condone the actual practice of juggling live animals, and figure that whoever is stupid enough to try it deserves all the pain he/she will undoubtedly experience. (I've had to give a cat a bath, so I *know* there will be pain.)

When you write you have many things up in the air at the same time--the main plot, characterization, voice, subplots, dialogue, setting, description, conflict, and keeping in mind your background. Not to mention just making sure your writing is good. And all those elements can be stubborn and feel like they're fighting you the whole time.

It can seem overwhelming to try and remember and do it all, so I wanted to share something I found recently from author James Patterson. He's written a ton of books (I think 59, if I counted correctly from the list on his website) and he just signed a 17-Book Deal with Hatchett. Whether or not you like Patterson's books, you have to admit he is a successful author. And he said one thing that I'd like to talk about today.

In an interview posted on his site, Patterson was asked if he had a set of routines or rituals that he followed when working on a book.

*Before you read: I want you to just move past the first line. Don't hyperventilate, because I want you to not be shell-shocked and miss what I really want to talk about. Remember, just skim that first sentence.*

James Patterson: "One [routine] is to do a very exacting 30-40 page outline. It helps me get organized. I will tend to do nine or ten drafts. I do about a draft a month. On each draft, I work on something in particular. For example, I might work on a couple of characters who I don't think are rich enough or I might work on plot twists, and then on a couple of drafts I might just work on the writing itself. Early on, I just work on the story."

Remember what I said! Take a deep breath and just forget the 30-40 page outline comment.

I want to talk about Patterson's drafting process. First of all, notice that he does 9 or 10 drafts! And he will spend a draft just working on one thing at a time. James Patterson doesn't even try to juggle all the cats at the same time, and neither do we. I can focus on a certain aspect for a draft, and then focus on another one the next time through.

I especially like what Patterson said about his early drafts focusing just on story, since that's where I am. I'll just have to trust that the character arcs are kind of choppy and the descriptions are cliche at this point, because right now I just need to pound out the story. I can work on all that other stuff in future drafts.

I don't have to try and juggle cats.

Now there's a happy kitty!


Don said...

Juggling cats - now there's an analogy that fits.

And it's good to know I'm not the only one who does draft after draft after draft. Now if I could only get each round down to a single month...

Deborah said...

That pic is totally photo-shopped. The hands aren't even real. So even the dumb dude can't juggle cats. I know from experience that trying to juggle everything in your WIP only brings the whole thing to a stop.

ElanaJ said...

Yeah, once I skipped the first sentence, I can see where Mr. Patterson is coming from. And he's so right!

L.T. Elliot said...

Wise advice, both about drafts and not throwing things into the air that have 5 of their 6 ends pointy.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Wow. My outlines are usually three pages. LOL!
Maybe I should try to juggling thing... :)

Noble M Standing said...

Alexandra Sokolloff (sp) suggests the same type of edit (Emotional edit, sensory edit etc etc etc) I imagine it's a longer at hand process but much better than trying to do it all in one shot.
Nice post. Thanks.