Kate Flora: If you read Vaughn Hardacker’s post yesterday, you’ll have gotten the idea–writing a finished book isn’t as simple as doing a draft and you’re done. I’ve always said that story goes in in the first two drafts and craft in the next three. Of course, depending on deadlines, there may not be time for five drafts, but every book goes through a lot of revision between the writer’s clever idea and the story that ends up on the printed page.
Right now, I’m coming into the end zone on the sixth Joe Burgess mystery at a time of
year when life is rather chaotic. We’re back in Maine at the cottage, and one thing after another is breaking. I’m trying to tend gardens in two locations while replacing a dishwasher and some windows. It seems like I am always in the house that needs toilet paper when I’m trying to find the sweater that’s in my other closet. In short, I am trying to write a book while in a state of perpetual confusion.
Here is how confusion is manifesting itself right now. I am writing a scene where Joe Burgess visits his crime victims in the hospital. They are children, and don’t speak English. I write the scene and then try to do the laundry, but just as I’m putting the dark clothes in the washer, a little voice in my head says: But you haven’t given your reader any sense of those children. You’ve left out the critical emotion in the scene.
Washer gets started. Scene gets fixed. It is time to go outside and do battle with my nemesis, goutweed. I am wearing my tick-proof clothing and knee pads, down on all fours, weeding under the hydrangeas, when the little voice speaks again: When Burgess interviews the translator, you need to let the reader see her and feel her distress at what has happened to these girls. Goutweed removed, I shed my protective gear and rewrite the scene.
So Burgess and Kyle are about to go to lunch and I am about to drive to the grocery store so the writer and her husband can also have lunch, when the voice comes back. Listen, it says, you just had Burgess and Kyle walk through that interview. It’s flat. It’s boring. You haven’t made them suspicious of the seemingly nice guy they are interviewing. Get back to your desk and put some tension into that scene. Make it subtle now. Make it subtle.
So this is what it’s like. Writers are people who are supposed to hear voices in their heads, telling them what to do. My voice has gotten a bit vociferous of late. I think this is because I gave it two uninterrupted weeks of obsessive writing recently and now it believes it is entitled to be listened to all the time. Striking the balance between writing and all the other demands of life can be difficult. Sometimes, even though it is rude, I have to tell the voice to be quiet and leave me alone.
Can’t, the voice says, readers are waiting for Burgess six and you don’t want to keep them waiting.
I agree. But shouldn’t there also be time for cloud watching?
Voice says okay. So tomorrow, when I go to the Farmer’s Market, I expect to take that nagging voice with me. Will it let me buy veggies before it starts asking what happens next?