Sunday, November 14, 2010

Defeated the Writer's Block!

I am happy to say that yesterday's cleaning of my desk did the trick.  I finally found the copy of the third chapter of my children's book with the edits I had penned in several weeks ago.  I updated the chapter and let my husband read it. 

I told him I was stuck on one issue, and he agreed.  I didn't like how I described the children in the chapter.  They need to be described in more detail and with some kind of identifying characteristic so that later in the story the reader will know these are the same kids from Chapter 3.  I wasn't able to work through this, but put it on an issue list in my mind like I would if I were developing software and had a problem that wasn't urgent enough to hold up the whole project and could wait to be resolved.

I normally only work on one chapter in a day (or even a week) but decided to add formatting to the first draft of the next several chapters.  The initial version of the story is hand-written in a small pink journal with funny aliens all over it.  I keep it in my purse and have reserved it for this story only, a story I wrote over a year mostly while sitting on my front porch resting my broken foot.  The poured out of me like it had a life of its own.

This past summer, I spent several evenings at the coffee shop at the local bookstore.  I brought my laptop, my hot pink alien journal, at least one child (but never the baby), and some dollars for treats.  The kids read and munched while I typed the story somewhat from the journal, but mostly not word for word.  It ended up a very rough draft, single spaced with block type without much editing.  My goal was to smooth out the story and get it all into the computer as good as I could the first time (sort of like a pre-test version of software before it's even near ready for users to look at it).  I was very happy with version 1 and had no expectation it was perfect; I was pleased it was functional and funny - and not terrible at all. 

By the time I got to chapter 8, school started for my kids, so I took a break and didn't revisit it.  I lost all of my momentum and had no time to run out to the coffee shop.  Last month I decided to sign up for a writing class with the goal to finish the story by the end of class.  My deadline is coming up quickly - there are only two or three classes remaining with an extra week in the middle for Thanksgiving. 

For my first two classes, I polished the first two chapters and reformatted them so they read like a book.  It sounds like a silly thing, but the formatting matters and is tedious to apply to multiple documents.  It would have been more efficient to start with a template, but I didn't think that far ahead.  Instead, I copied my coffee shop version, added headers and footers with titles and page numbers.  I double spaced the body and added indentation for the paragraphs.  I added white space so it's easier on my old eyes.  In my first writing class, I read the entire first chapter out loud, which was a huge milestone.  I'm not sure if the other women in class particularly loved it, but for me that wasn't the point - I shared it with people outside my home and read it out loud lovingly.

In the week after the first class, I applied the same formatting for the second chapter and edited it to perfection.  The third chapter was a little tricky.  While I was working on it, I got distracted by poetry and became immersed in dark poems that really didn't gel with this happy children's story.  So I put the sweet story aside and spent several weeks in poetry mode instead.

Last night after I found Chapter 3 in the stack of papers on my bedroom floor, I edited it some more and let my husband read it.  With a sudden burst of energy no doubt from the unusual silence in my house (the kids weren't home), I formatted chapters 4 through 7 and printed them off.  I edited them with a pen one chapter at a time.  I typed up the edits, and repeated the process until I was happy with each chapter.  The more I worked on the remaining chapters, the more I realized I needed to rework the flow of it.  I edited and rewrote, split chapters, inserted chapter 4 in the middle of chapter 5, and ended up with an eight chapter, 34 page story that is lovely and is exactly what I wanted it to be.  Except for those boys in chapter 3 - that I still need to work on just a little. 

I went to bed last night so happy and proud I could hardly sleep.  When I look back to the children's stories I wrote when I was in my twenties, I am amazed at how far I have come. 

Today I can say I am sort of happy I had a foot injury that has kept me home to work on this.  If I were working, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had gone to graduate school, I would be working on something entirely different.  The seed of the story would no doubt be in my mind, but I am certain it never would have been executed. 

I cannot wait until I have the time to read the last few chapters handwritten in my hot pink alien journal and type them up.  Right now my kids are making a big ruckus in the background and need my help.  I think all I want from my family for Christmas is time at the coffee shop.

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