I am a planner. I like to make to do lists in the morning and I’m still waiting on my Google Calendar to create an in app to do list option. (I wrote that because I’m sure someone from Google is one of my readers and they are waiting to meet my needs.) Either way, that planning part of me, the part that gets stressed when I’m not able to accomplish all the things on my to do list, feels better when I have a plan to put in place, a hierarchy of tasks.
Recently, I’ve been lost in the planning of my newest WIP. It’s been harder to write than I realized because it hits so close to home with me. I’ve always struggled with some of the details of my life and now I’m trying to write about them in a way that rings true. When I was in college I tried to write about my experience, but my professor told me she could tell I wasn’t ready to write it because it made her feel sympathy. Sympathy isn’t the goal, she said. Empathy is.
That one statement has stuck with me for so long, and I’ve really put myself in the heart of it. I’m not exploring the one bad thing, I’m also exploring all of the good that surrounded it. I’m exploring sibling relationships and imagining what grown-up life might be like when I’m thirty, which is something that is in my sights now that I’m almost 26. Anyways, all of this is to say that I didn’t, or at least I won’t, meet my self-imposed deadline of getting the first draft on paper, and I’m definitely okay with that.
When I met with my critique partner about Look to the Sky, one of the things that she asked me was did you write a character sketch for all of the major players. I hadn’t, and there were some details that I’m now trying to figure out how to fix. I had so much in my head during the writing process and the several rounds of revision that I went through that I knew the answers to some questions, but not to others. I had written so fast and so furiously that I had missed some opportunities for the kind of details that make a story really real.
I have 8,000 words on this new novel written, but after my meeting with Ruth Ann, I had to step away because I didn’t want to make the same mistake again. I’m such a character and setting driven writer that I can’t afford to miss those details of reality. So, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks slowing down and thinking about my characters. I used Proust’s 35 Questions to explore my three main characters, and out of those 35 questions I was able to come up with seven or eight different scenes that I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise. Three minor characters came from the answers. Some plot details came from the answers.
I will miss a first draft deadline, and one day that won’t be an option anymore, but for now, that was the best choice I could have made.