Currently, I’m being paid to watch an elderly woman with balance issues. All I really have to do it make sure she doesn’t fall. This involves walking behind her when she moves around the house, watching as she prepares her meals, and basically making sure she remembers to hold on to something sturdy while standing. Things she mostly remembers. I’m here just in case anything should happen.
My charge takes naps daily. So I’ve been paid the past few days to surf the internet, play games, and work on my latest book while my charge is otherwise occupied.
Back when I worked in daycare, I learned how to get what you needed done while the kids were asleep. The two to three hour quiet time was the time to clean bibs, tables, chairs, bathrooms, etc. It was the time for the teachers to eat lunch and compare notes over what happened when Johnny refused to eat his peas and threw them at Susie.
When November rolled around, I would use nap time to pull out my laptop and bang out a chapter. I used all the time available to write for a bit. I might not finish the scene I was working on before I was called away, but at least I put something down.
I’m using that same principle when my charge is napping. I will focus on my writing duties while she’s asleep. Since I never know if her naps will last half an hour or two hours, I have a few tricks that let me move forward in the story quickly.
Plan Your Conversations
I like writing dialogue. I’ve been told that I’m good at it. There are scenes of dialogue that I end up writing rather quickly because I’ve already had my characters have this conversation in my head. I know who has the zingers, who lays down ultimatums, and who has the line I can’t wait to write. I often don’t have things verbatim when I sit down for these scenes, but I have a few lines in mind that I build toward.
Know What Happens Next
We’ve all reached that dead end. You’ve set the scene, you’ve outlined the stakes, and your character enters – and you don’t know where things will go after that. It is okay. Sometimes you have to sit in front of your screen, read the last part again, and just start writing to figure out what happens next.
But for me, those moments are few and far between. This is because when I’m actively writing, even if I don’t have the concrete ending in mind, I do have an idea what happens next. I let the scene play out in my head long before it goes onto the virtual piece of paper.
For instance, I knew that the King, his brothers, and the clergy set out to save the princess in one story I finished a few months ago. I knew they were delayed. And I knew the clergy would get to talk to his brothers-in-law more about God. But I didn’t know until I visited them again exactly what happened. I realized as I wrote that one of the brothers would be hurt in a battle, and the others would angry with the clergy over the fact that the God he said controls everything was letting their brother die. It would be a perfect opportunity to outline the “why do bad things happen to good people” argument. I knew by the end of the chapter, the brother would live because of the pastor’s prayer. I even knew the ending line of the chapter. But I didn’t know what the clergy would say until the incident happened before me. I let that conversation play out as it happened. When I finished the scene, I had three pages of the conversation I wanted to portray. I wrote that scene (which ended up being two chapters) quickly because I knew what happened next.
Once you know your characters and you have a general idea where things will go, let your mind wander as you’re doing something routine like making a meal. What would happen if Susie walked in and Harold announced his undying love for her? Does she even like Harold? What if Susie likes Johnnie, but Johnnie likes Mary, who’s hopelessly in love with Harold? Let your mind wander during the day (when you can) and go over “what if?” scenarios. You can learn a lot about your characters even if you never use the material. Maybe from that love triangle you realized that Mary and Johnnie belong together, and Susie’s story will move on after her heart breaks without even worrying about Harold’s unwelcome declaration of his feelings.
Know What Doesn’t Happen
You will have to learn your characters well enough to know what will not happen with them. When I first started writing about this princess, I knew she would find her true love in the clergyman. Before I got them to meet, I had to show she was bored with her constant stream of suitors. Then I had her ride away and long for her true love.
This girl’s days were pretty much the same. After showing how one suitor didn’t hold her interest for long, I knew I needed to follow her again as she met someone else. To my surprise, the young man who took the girl’s hand introduced himself. It is rare for a character to introduce themselves without planning on my part. The two carried on for a bit. Her mind wandered, and the young man, Henry, noticed. By the time the scene ended, she had raced him on horseback and won. He accepted his defeat graciously. The princess agreed to see him again.
By the end of this scene, I was kind of confused. I’d met a decent rich young man who had made my stubborn princess smile. But since I knew Henry was not part of her future, I kept going. I ended up having him miss a meeting with her so she could go back to the waterfall and meet her true love. His servant sent her a yellow flower and apologized in his stead. I knew from the moment the servant handed her the flower that Henry was cheating on her. And from there it was easy to write him out of the story. But I only got to that point because I knew that Henry was not a big part of the story.
Pay Attention to the World Around You
Yes, when you are writing, the rest of the world may be irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what’s on TV, what song is playing, or even what the person in the next room is saying. You’re focusing on what Susie will do when she finds out that Johnnie is engaged to Mary. But during those lulls while you are writing, be sure to pause. Make sure the woman talking in the next room isn’t talking to you (if she is, answer!). Take a minute to watch that commercial that makes you smile. Acknowledge your pet that’s close by. Take a sip of your drink before the ice melts.
Back when I was interning, our class went to the library for the entire period. All I really had to do was be there, and there wasn’t a lot for me to supervise or do. It was also November, and I was in the middle of a NaNoWriMo story. So I did what any good little Wrimo would do with time on their hands. I sat down at a table, pulled out my notebook, and started writing a scene. I had just about finished when I happened to shift position and look to my left. Sometime since I had begun writing, a student of my class had sat down right beside me and started taking a test. Clearly, the clinical teacher had told them to sit there so I could watch them. But I was oblivious because I was too caught up in my own little world of crashing spaceships. I did write more that day, but I was careful to pay more attention to what was around me even while writing.
So even while you’re tapping away diligently in the quiet moments of your day (like nap time), please don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on around you. Look at the kids napping. Make sure the person in the next room isn’t shouting at you. Sooner or later, the real world will draw you away from the world you’re creating. It’s best to pay attention so you’re not surprised when the time to step away comes.
When you get the hang of it, this becomes almost easy. But it does take some practice.
I will leave you today with a picture stolen from a Facebook friend that I meant to share last week.