Sunday, January 22, 2012

Schizophrenic writer wanted

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This is one of those weeks. The husband is out of town for a trade show. College auditions are approaching for some students. The tot is sick. My grandmother is in the hospital. A snow storm hit Chicago yesterday making things a little scary out on the roads and I’m racing to finish a manuscript. Which of course means this is the week that two sets of revision letters arrived. One was for MURDER FOR CHOIR which hits shelves on July 3rd. The other was for THE TESTING, my post-apocalyptic young adult novel that will make its appearance in the spring of 2013.

Now, I love revisions. I happily dove into the revisions on MURDER FOR CHOIR and had them out the door in lightning speed enjoying every minute of the revisions. (Yeah – go ahead and throw things. I’m betting I can duck faster than you can throw.) Fun, quick revisions are great, but I also I love revisions that challenge me to think harder, go deeper and work like mad to make the story the best it can be. So, I was totally stoked when I got a revision letter from my editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that does that. They are the kind of revisions that scare the hell out of me when I first read them and then challenge my brain to work overtime. I’m having trouble sleeping because I have all sorts of great ideas rolling around in my head. Only—I can’t work on it yet.

Why, you ask? Well, I have about 4 or 5 chapters left of the current book I’m working on, END ME A TENOR. Why does that make a difference you ask? Well, if I keep to schedule, I should be typing THE END on the last page sometime in the next 10-14 days. Because of the family issues I’ve been dealing with, I’ll admit that getting this book done was a struggle. While it hasn’t taken me all that much longer to write (I started the first page near the end of October) it feels like it has taken years. I want to climb the last stretch of the mountain, plant my flag at the top and do a happy dance celebrating the completion of this round.

Of course, I could write on END ME A TENOR during the tot’s nap time and then work on revisions at night. In fact, I ache to do this. Only, there’s an even bigger issue.

My mystery voice is punchy and a little off the wall.

My YA voice is dark, taught and a bit plaintive. (At least, I think so…who knows what the critics will say.)

While some people excel at writing two projects at the same time, I’m mostly a tunnel vision kind of girl. I affix my eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how small, and step by step work in a single-minded fashion until I get there. Aside from page proofs and copy edits, nothing interrupts that hike to the finish line. And while this week I was able to edit MURDER FOR CHOIR while also writing on END ME A TENOR, I was able to do so only because they were the same voice. There was no transition. No worry that one would bleed into the next. Last year, I made an attempt to write the opening to THE TESTING while I was writing the beginning of SKATING UNDER THE WIRE. Um…not such a good idea. Every time I sat down I had to work hard to keep my mind in the correct tense. It took twice as long for me to get that day’s work on the page. The minute I decided to focus on one project things fell into place. The first three chapters of Rebecca Robbins 4 were finished and polished in about 9 days. I then turned to THE TESTING and watched my fingers fly.

So I will wait. I will remember that while other people can write on two projects, and in two distinctly different voices, at the same time I am not one of those people. I have to stick with what works for me.

But of course, I am curious to know what works for you. Can you work on two projects at once? Are the voices similar? Or are you like me who looks at longing with that second project knowing no matter how much you might want to play, doing so will only make things more difficult?


Sandra Ruttan said...

Tunnel vision. If I don't focus, it all comes apart, like a house of cards in a windstorm.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Sandra - I'm so glad it isn't just me. I assumed I was a freak of nature. (Which is still possible, but perhaps not due to this issue!)

Jeff Shelby said...

I'd prefer to do one at a time, but I can't. I have overlapping projects and whether I like it or not, I have to work on them at the same time because of the time frames. So I have to compartmentalize. I literally write down a schedule on a piece of paper that tells me what times I'll be working on which book. If I get on a roll with one, sometimes I'll cheat the schedule.

In a totally unrelated story, my hair seems to be falling out...

WriterMarie said...

Tunnel vision when I have the luxury. ;o) Most of the time I'm juggling projects - book, articles, songwriting, and of course the pleas from my son to help him with his school projects. (I've now become good at getting him to think through and do as much as he can BEFORE yelling for help from Mom!) Then there's all of the other usual suspects each day, of course. Thank God there's caffeine to help with the balancing act...which I'm still learning!

Hope your son and grandma are well soon!