So you're writing a novel? Good for you! But be forewarned: no TRUE writer escapes the Seven Stages of Fiction Frenzy...
1. Eureka! An Idea!
Nothing is better than that first spark of inspiration. You feel alive. Your Muse is finally cooperating. You’re buoyed with hope and visions of obscenely large paychecks. You balk against eating, sleeping, and walking the dog. You are compelled to switch on the computer and pound out the first line, “CHAPTER ONE. . . “
2. What Was I THINKING?!
. . . And then the cold harsh reality sets in. You’re a character without a clue. You’re trying to think through the mind of a stranger, who doesn’t know her own hair color, much less where she’s headed on page one. When she meets another character, she can’t decide if he's a friend, a foe, or a robot from another dimension. You are stuck!
Meanwhile, that vile, evil cursor continues to blink, mocking your lack of progress. Writing an email would be SO much more fun. You decide to take the easy way out. You type a text.
3. The Freeway Freak Out
After bragging to all of the texting Universe that you are writing a new novel, you chug down some coffee. (Or your favorite alcoholic beverage.) You feel so much better. More ideas are coming to you. In fact, they're coming TOO FAST. You’re cursing your fickle Muse, because:
a) You’re sitting in the loo without your computer (or a pad of sticky notes,)
b) You can’t type at the speed of light, or
c) You’re driving. (My personal favorite.) You pull off the freeway to write story notes on gum wrappers, old grocery store receipts, taco napkins, the Chevy manual in your glove compartment. Heck, you’re not proud. You even write on the back of your hand. (If you had an oil crayon, you’d be writing on the windshield.)
A real story starts to emerge. You’re in Eurekaville once more. Problem? You have plot holes. You tell yourself that now would be a good time to develop your characters with a detailed worksheet. You even consider writing the bane of every novel writer's existence: a synopsis. (Then you laugh uproariously at this proof of your insanity.)
Deciding you’re not THAT much of a masochist, you write some paragraphs. And the writing is progressing reasonably well. Except that your story has 10 chapters and 50 pages. Hmm. Maybe you could convince some literary agent that this monstrosity IS a synopsis, after all.
4. Cantankerous Characters
Correction: You ARE a masochist. Only a masochist would show up in front of a blank computer screen, day after day, trying to leech ideas from a brain fueled solely by cheese puffs and beer.
To make matters worse, in your efforts to make your characters “come alive,” you have created monstrous BRATS, who refuse to behave. Aunt Fanny, the walk-on who is supposed to have exactly two lines, turns stand-up-comic and demands a book of her own. Joey Blalock, the hero, is about as sexy as corrugated cardboard.
You hate your characters.
They hate you back.
You MUST regain control. You start chopping out paragraphs. Killing off characters. Crying in your beer.
You’re convinced that you suck – not just at writing, but at everything. You KNOW you would feel better if you chucked your laptop through the window of a fast moving car. You envision the cries of all those sniveling, ungrateful characters as rubber tires crush the life out of them. Their stories will NEVER be heard. Bwa-ha-ha! Once again, you are the maniacal emperor of your fiction universe.
5. Plot Purgatory
Waking up from your nap (in which you dreamed – erroneously – that you had power over your characters), you switch the computer back on.
Remember all those pesky plot holes that you couldn’t plug while you were brainstorming? The ones that you waved aside with such stellar self-confidence because you assured yourself, “I’m brilliant. I’ll figure that out later.”
Well, today is “Later.” Those plot glitches are still tripping up your manuscript. You pad with trivial dialogue. Flashbacks and dream scenes. Your plot is STILL a mystery, and there’s no ending in sight. To make matters worse, your middle now sags.
Ready to tear the last hair from your head, you sink to rock bottom. You decide to do what's truly shameful. Hoping your readers are too enthralled by your superior writing to notice, you type the word, “Suddenly.”
And then, right there on the spot, you invent a convenient SOMETHING to rescue your characters: Maybe it’s a rich uncle, who saves your heroine from a debtor’s prison.
Maybe it’s the miraculous avalanche that crushes the outlaws, so your marshal can ride into the sunset.
Maybe it’s a horse (or a dragon, or a stealth fighter jet) that just “happens” to appear at the precise moment when your protagonist is about to be captured by the villain.
Good thing you write under a pen name, huh?
6. The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Emaciated, bald, and jittery from too much coffee, you determine to press on. It's DEADLINE or DEATH. Your friends and family think you’re insane. You tell them, "Insanity is the definition of WRITER." Nobody understands you except your writer friends.
But you don’t have time to call your pals and beg for sympathy. You’re on deadline. The clock is ticking. You need to wrap up this stupid story before your editor gets wise to the fact that you’ve been watching infomercials and playing video games during your last two “deadline extensions.” If you don’t finish your book, the Hag will demand that you return your advance-against-royalties, which barely paid for your electric bill nine months ago.
You pray. That’s right. You actually get down on your knees for the first time since your last deadline and bargain with God. You promise that you will donate an organ to an orphan if God will just keep you funded long enough to finish your novel without making you flip burgers to pay rent.
You spy a $5 bill under the couch. Cackling gleefully, you dash off to Taco World to snarf down your first glimmer of protein since you polished off your last can of baked beans.
The clouds part. A ray of sun shines through. Evidently, the medical rumor that protein helps a brain is valid. Eureka! You have the answer to your plot glitch. You race home to dash off the Climax and Resolution of your story.
7. Delirium Sets In
Hooray! You have finally typed, THE END. Your book is finished – all 100,000 words of it (give or take 50,000.) You met your deadline. Your spouse has relented, deciding not to divorce you. You remember to call your children by their real names, instead of the names of your characters.
Deliriously happy, you race to the post office to wow all your Postal Worker buddies with your 500-page, Bouncing Baby Manuscript. Eagerly, you watch while your monstrosity – er, I mean, your masterpiece is stamped and postmarked to beat your five o’clock deadline.
At last, everything is right in your world.
And then the letter arrives. That's right: THE LETTER. Your editor has sent you 26 detailed pages of REVISIONS. This “ransom note” tells you where you must rewrite your precious masterwork, if you ever want to see a real, live paycheck again. ARGH!!
I guess it’s time to break out more cheese puffs...