Saturday, April 15, 2017

Requesting a Lifeline

Scott D. Parker

Who remembers the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” TV show from the late 90s and early 2000s? For the two of y’all that don’t, host Regis Philbin would ask the contestants a series of increasingly difficult questions with the ultimate goal of winning a million dollars. Along the way, there were three lifelines: poll the audience, remove two of the four possible answers, and phone a friend. The removal was usually the one that helped the most—except when they removed the most obviously wrong answer. The audience poll typically got you the right answer unless the question was really hard. The phone a friend was sometimes a crap shoot, especially when the contestant called the friend and they didn’t know a thing about the topic. Yeah, that sucked.

I don’t know about y’all, but when it comes to writing, I sometimes want to have a lifeline. A great proofreader to eliminate the errors that always sneak past my eyes (and my editor’s eyes). A great cover artist who can render what I see in my head exactly as I see it. Or, as it happened this week, asking advice.

I’m writing a new book for April and about a week ago, I hit a wall. It wasn’t a huge wall, but it definitely slowed down my pace. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, so I drew on a lifeline. I emailed a fellow writer who had been working consistently for over forty years. I specifically asked his advice because many of the books he writes are drafted without an outline—a skill I am honing this first half of 2017. “What,” I asked him, “do you do when you slow down?” Surely, I thought, he knew some tricks that helped him publish the massive amount of books he had written.

He came back later the same day. (It’s pretty much a common occurrence for me, who wakes at 4:30am every work day, to be able to send out emails before many folks are even awake.) Yeah, he said, I hit walls, but I power through them. I just keep writing. Oh, and he follows Raymond Chandler’s advice: when in doubt, have a man come into the room holding a gun. It doesn’t always have to be a gun, but it has to be something against which the main character can react. Because for every action, there is a reaction. Science.

Here’s the irony: I had already powered through the issue with a word count that surpassed the previous two days combined. But it was wonderful to know that even one of our most prolific authors also has moments of challenge and that he just plows ahead.
Oh, and the thing against which my character, Calvin Carter, had to react against wasn’t a man with a gun. It was a woman. And heaven knows Carter likes women…

Do y’all have any lifelines y’all typically use when you hit speed bumps?

1 comment:

Dana King said...

I don't hit a lot of bumps. That's not because I'm that wonderful a writer, but I tie on my two lifelines before I start the project. I work from an outline, so I always have a good idea of what comes next. I know a lot of people don't like outlines, but I like them because it allows me to let the different areas of creativity work where they're best suited. Plot work better for me when that's all I'm worried about, then the actual writing comes easier when I'm essentially describing what has already happened. At least in my mind it has.

My other lifeline is knowing I'm doing multiple drafts, usually five or six. That means I get the day's work done as well as I can, knowing I'll have another shot at it and can re-write what I have so far. Much as I like my outlines, they're maps, not rigid directions. I've done it long enough now that I trust that alternate ideas will percolate up over the year to year-and-a-half it takes me to write a book start to finish, so I just plug away.