I need to write a synopsis for my novel. Everyone always says that, as a writer, you should have a synopsis for your novel. I’ve been meaning to do it for months now. I have a great elevator pitch for the story. I can talk about it to anyone who asks without batting an eyelash, but actually writing out the synopsis? For some reason the task has me paralyzed.
I just don’t want to. I don’t want to so much that I am actually working on the novel to avoid writing the synopsis of the novel, which, ultimately, I guess, is pretty good procrastination. Still, it needs to be done.
I’ve dedicated a whole page of my website to these few paragraphs that have yet to be written. Up there at the left top: “The Feathered Tale.” I will admit – the statement on that page is a total lie. I’m not in the process of revising the synopsis. The damn thing doesn’t exist yet.
I think this all has to do with the intense anxiety I’m experiencing as I draw near to finishing the book. I’m anxious about not having enough time to work on it. I’m anxious that any day now, some other, more talented writer will publish a book about a down-on-her-luck ostrich farmer. I’m anxious that the story will never be done. I’m anxious that it will be done soon and then I’ll have to figure out how to get the damn thing out into the world. I’m anxious about all the stories I’m not writing while I’m struggling to finish this one. You name it – I’m tying myself in knots over it.
And all this anxiety just drives me to drink, which I’m okay with, really, but it doesn’t help me write my damn synopsis.
So anyway, yeah. Synopsis. One of these days.
If any writers out there have any words of wisdom on this one – I could use the help.
I saw this little gem in my Facebook stream a while back and it’s been the cause of much rumination since then.
Is the idea that we (me, you, and your cousin Jim) need to earn a living really just a self-imposed prison? Should we all just go back to school and think about whatever it was we were thinking about before somebody came along and told us to earn a living?
I don’t know.
The way I interpret this is that we all have a true calling, and that our efforts in life should be in service to that, rather than a pay check. Some people are called to be heart surgeons, others are called to paint landscapes, and some would spend all day in the garden growing pumpkins if they could. If we all just follow our calling, we will all be happy, living in a world with excellent doctors, lovely art and lots of pumpkins to eat.
It’s a nice idea, but my mind keeps turning to our garbage man, my dental hygienist, and the administrative assistant at my kid’s preschool. All three of these people do important work, but I’ve never assumed their work is their calling. The truth is, in the world we live in, bills have to be paid, food needs to be bought, cars need to be repaired. These things cost money. We earn money by working jobs.
That’s not to say that jobs have to dominate our lives. In fact, in my experience, most people have a job they work for a pay check, and other pursuits they follow in their spare time. Hobbies, they’re called. My novel is what I do in my spare time. I’m reluctant to call it a hobby, as I genuinely hope to turn my novel writing into the thing that earns me my pay check, but I guess it would be an accurate label.
Until I have developed the skill to be a professional novelist, I will continue to work the day job. And that, I think, is the hole in Fuller’s argument. With all due respect, you don’t just get to declare yourself and artist and retire to a life of rumination. Not all artists are good. Not all gardeners have a green thumb. Some doctors have shaky hands and should never operate on anyone’s heart.
We all end up somewhere in our attempt to pay our bills. If we’re not happy with that, it’s in our power to change it, but it’s difficult. Like my mom always says: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” The idea that we should all just sit around and ponder what interests us is flawed. What we should really do is study, apprentice, practice, train.
I have always said that a writer is someone who writes. Full stop. But as a writer I’m under no illusion that the bills will pay themselves. No matter what Mr. Fuller had to say about it.
On January 29th I declared that I was going to write every day for the rest of my life
I missed that first day while on vacation with the family in Tahoe. There was so much going on that I just straight up forgot. I decided to pretend it didn’t happen and just carry on. No one need ever know, I figured, as long as I never forgot again. And then, five days later, I forgot again.
The thing is, I’ve incorporated the practice in to my morning routine. I get up at 5 and drink coffee for 15 minutes while I write, and then work on the novel until it’s time to get the kids ready for school. I do this about 4 days a week, usually Monday through Thursday because frankly, by Friday, I’m ef-ing tired and just want to sleep in.
But on those days that I don’t get up early to write on my novel, I find it challenging to make time to write for 15 minutes later in the day. For me, the logical second choice is to write just before bed, but I’m usually so frazzled by then that I often forget.
All in all, since I made my grand proclamation three weeks ago, I think I’ve missed five days.
Still, when I first decided to get up every morning to work on my novel, I only got my ass out of bed about two mornings a week. Over time I’ve gotten better at it. I still have hopes that I might actually manage 5 days a week before too long. I have to assume it will be the same with my goal to write everyday. I have no intention of giving up. If I’m anything, it’s stubborn.
Often, when I tell people in Los Angeles that I’m working on a novel set on a ostrich farm, they ask me if I have been to visit the ostriches up in Santa Barbara. Well, up until yesterday, I hadn’t.
I had been wanting to go for a while and yesterday, it occurred to Daniel and me, that it was a rare free day – nothing on the calendar at all. So we decided, on a whim, to take the whole family on the fairly long drive up to Solvang, California to visit Ostrichland USA
It was really interesting to see a totally different kind of ostrich farming. If you follow along here, you know that I’ve done most of the research for my book at the OK Corral
Ostrichland is a totally different type of place. It is much more a tourist attraction. Their birds live long happy lives roaming free across an enormous, verdant piece of land. For a few bucks you can feed them, up close and personal (see the video below), if they feel like coming to the fence for a snack. There was a line of people waiting to shell out money to spend a little time with the birds. It is so much a roadside attraction that Ostrichland doesn’t even slaughter its birds. In fact, I noticed in the gift shop that the ostrich jerky they sell comes from the OK Corral.
In terms of research, I drove away from the experience really glad that I had started (all those years ago) by visiting the OK Corral. Ostrichland is great (and if you get a chance, you should absolutely stop by for a visit and feed the birds), but I want to tell a more gritty story, one that is just better suited to the harsh desert farm.
Still, as I wrap up what is likely the last (or next to last) draft of the book, it’s nice to know that I’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s in the research department. Nobody can accuse me of not having done my homework.
I‘m obsessed. And not with something normal, like Downton Abbey, or salted caramel ice cream. No, I have turned totally crazy over the word “was.”
It’s a silly little word. The kind of word you don’t even notice, until you read something that relies so heavily on those three beige letters that you just want to scream.
If you read really good fiction (or really good anything for that matter), you won’t see much of “was,” because the truth is, it’s a terribly dull word. Pick any sentence with the word “was.”
I was walking down the street.
BORING. “Was walking” doesn’t say much. I raced down the street. Or, maybe: I walked past a house with a cat sleeping in the window and thought of Samantha’s lazy plans for the afternoon. You get the point. “Was” has always been a signal to me that a sentence just isn’t done yet.
So as I’m editing my manuscript, I stop every few pages and do a word search for “was” and I am usually shocked to see how many are highlighted in yellow. When I started this round of edits, I had over 1200 instances of the word “was” in just 220 pages. Eee-gad. I had that many unfinished sentences.
The thing is, it can be really tricky getting rid of that stupid, dirty word. At times I have to completely re-conceive how it is I want to say what I’m saying. I sit and stare at sentences for minutes on end, thinking, “there’s no other way to say this.” But there’s always another way. In fact, there are countless ways to say just about anything. It’s my job as a writer to find the best way, and the best way almost never includes “was.”
So, yes, I’m obsessed. The very sight of the stupid word makes me angry, vindictive. Out out damn spot.
And I haven’t even gotten the “were”s yet, or the only slightly less offensive “had.”
This could take a while.