“What’s the hardest part of being a writer?”
It’s a question I’ve been asked from time to time. Plots? Characters? Writing dialog? Writer’s block?
No, no, no, and no.
For me, the answer is simple. Staying on track. More to the point, getting back on track after a derailment. Sometimes it seems like writing is like moving a freight train down obstacle-strewn tracks. Every time I get the whole mile worth of cars rolling along, something else comes up to bring it to a halt. Worse yet, finally getting things rumbling along, at a nice clip, no less, to round the bend only to find a storm has come and washed out the bridge, tracks and all.
It’s nearly a year since Sandy did that and a whole lot more, and relative to the rest of the region I still feel quite fortunate. But when that tree dropped, it left a large section of roof and wall on top of the desk where my storyboard, notes, interviews with detectives and other resources, and all other research had been. The only thing, fortunately, that wasn’t on that desk at the time was my laptop. But being that I was still in the plotting and planning stage, much of my story was yet to turn digital. I never saw what happened to all that precious paperwork, buried beneath shingles, plaster, leaves and branches. The next morning my husband and I were on what was left of the roof with a chainsaw and tarps doing damage control while my daughter tried to salvage what she could from the roofless rooms, stashing what she could in an undamaged room. ALL the contents of the kitchen, my office, pictures off the walls. Furniture. Fish tanks. And so on. Once the house was back together, I promised myself, I’d dig through what she managed to save and recover my notes.
And gradually, everything has returned to its rightful place. Everything that survived, that is. Everything, it seems, except a few important pieces of paper that had been on that desk… and all my notes.
They had to be somewhere else. At least that’s what I hoped. That they survived, but were packed somewhere I’ve yet to unpack. Once I found them, I told myself, I’d get back on track. I’d get this train rolling. But as the months passed, it’s become evident that they must have been a casualty, carted off in a dumpster during the initial undigging. Which left me staring at a blank landscape. I wasn’t just derailed. I had no rails. I had no train. It was all gone.
Once I finally came to terms with that, I knew what I had to do. Return to ‘GO’, less my $200. Start over. Stop waiting for all my research and notes to magically reappear. Accept that they may be gone forever, and just move one. Build another train, build those tracks. Get rolling.
The one advantage to starting over is starting fresh, applying those lessons learned over previous trips down this route. Like my storyboard. I’m an obsessive plotter and planner, and my storyboard is critical. But the last one was too big, and it didn’t unfold in a way that I could track the different stages of the story. This one is smaller, but more extensive, color-coded, folds in on itself, stores Post-Its, and it fits easily into my messenger bag so it’s always with me. It’s looking pretty naked at the moment, but before long the Post-its will start breeding and multiplying.
Also, I’ve begun a system of ‘un-lose-able’ notes. I set up a gmail account just for this story alone, and I email myself EVERYTHING. Notes, passages, references. I can access that account from anywhere, and everything is tucked into orderly files I can find in three clicks or less. No more spreading across a desk. Portability is the key. And it’s a system I could see working well in the limited space of a boat, which is where I plan to do much more of my writing as I move forward. But as I’m still laying down the tracks, I’m curious, what systems do the rest of you use? What works for you? What keeps you on track?
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