Anyone who knows me well, and my Facebook fans who have read my comments and other blogs, know that procrastination is NOT one of my faults. In fact, I don’t know when to quit! I am wearing myself out. I usually write 2 – 6 hours a day and can crank out a 600(+) page book in 2-3 months if I have to. I hate procrastination and can’t stand to let anything sit “undone.” Whatever things I need to get done each day (besides writing) I DO! I don’t like thinking about all the things I need to do or places I need to go or people I need to see. For all the time a procrastinator sits around thinking about what he or she needs to get done, they could have DONE IT and had it over with!
Procrastination is a drain on the spirit and a drain on a person’s energy. It’s such a nice feeling at the end of the day to know you took care of this and that and this and that and you won’t go into the office the next day with a pile of “to-do’s” on your desk. And you won’t go to bed with those same “to-do’s” haunting your sleep and keeping you from much-needed rest. The Nike theme of “just do it” is so perfect for this blog.
Still, there are times when you HAVE to procrastinate. I’m not so sure it should be called that, but that’s what it feels like to me when I get stuck on a decision of which way to go with a story. I often go through a procrastination stage before I start a new book, like the short story I am working on now for a Christmas anthology. For one thing, I am not designed to write “short” stories. This one will be 150 – 200 pages, and to me that is short! My books usually take a good 550 – 650 pages to get everything in there that I want to take place in the book.
Some might think 200 pages shouldn’t be that difficult to write, but believe it or not, I’d rather write at least 400 – 500 pages. Keeping it short is NOT easy for me, because in the few short stories I’ve written I have always seen the potential for a much bigger book. I love to dig deeply into a big cast of characters, but you can’t do that with a short story. You need to zero in on the hero and heroine and perhaps one or two side characters, but not much more than that.
My problem with this particular story is that it picks up not long after the ending of my fourth Outlaw book (THE LAST OUTLAW – coming September 2017). I decided that since readers will still be pleasantly floating in the romantic character of Jake Harkner when they finish THE LAST OUTLAW, I just had to make the Christmas story about Jake and his family … kind of a last hurrah and farewell to characters my readers have lived with for the past four years and four books.
This whole idea led me into a couple of problems that have caused me to put off writing this book for a bit too long (it’s due November 1st – just one month away!!) I have had trouble figuring out how to clue in readers who might pick this up as their first book about the Harkners – those who never read the four big books of the actual series (OUTLAW HEARTS, DO NOT FORSAKE ME, LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE and THE LAST OUTLAW). These readers might find themselves a bit lost in “who’s who?” And since this is a Christmas story, I can’t make my hero Jake as ruthless as he can be at times in the four main books – nor can I use explicit sex. This is, after all, a Christmas story and to me Christmas infers Christianity and joyful and wholesome.
I also had trouble deciding on a definite scenario for this story. Other writers will understand when I say that “this idea” just didn’t fit into “that idea.” If “this happens,” then what I want to have happen toward the end of the story won’t work. If “that happens,” then “this” thing I definitely want to do at the beginning of the story will serve no purpose and have no significance on the whole story, so that means changing the entire beginning of the story. Everything that happens in your story should have significance and purpose and lead into something more or into “solving” the problem.
I am accustomed to (and have become a bit of an expert at) “filler” scenes and side stories and delving into secondary characters – all things that make for a big, fat book, which my readers love. They expect that from me and so does my editor. But keeping it short is a whole different matter and very hard for me. I kept worrying about length and word count (i.e. will this be long enough?). I have solved that problem by deciding to just write the story in a way that keeps it shorter, since “short enough” rather than “too long” will be best. I hate having to cut anything from a book. More, I just decided it didn’t really matter how long it was or what the word count was, as long as it was a solid story.
I have procrastinated for nearly a month on this book because I had so many different scenarios in my head, and none of them were working out with how I want the story to end. So although it seems I have been procrastinating, I have actually been working on this book “in my head” for quite a while. I knew the answers would come in the way they always come to me, which is as follows:
- If I mull over a story long enough, one tiny event will suddenly come to me and show me which way to go with the book – an “oh, yeah!” moment. In this case I had a particular event happening in the mountains when Jake Harkner takes his grandchildren into the foothills of the Rockies to cut a Christmas tree. However, I absolutely could not “connect” that event with a totally different event I had planned to portray the “scarry bad guy” challenge I also had planned for the story. The two things just absolutely would not connect … until I realized all I had to do was use the “scarry bad guy” event in the Christmas tree adventure rather than the “other” thing I wanted to do. Putting “scarry bad guy” right into that picture solved all my problems.
- ALMOST ALWAYS (for all you newer writers) – if you just sit down and start writing – anything – even if it’s “once upon a time,” the ideas will, for some reason, start flowing. Besides the major event mentioned above, I was having a lot of trouble figuring out how to start this book because it involves a lot of characters who played major roles in my four Outlaw books. My problem was – what about new readers who might pick up this story without reading the four main books? How do I enlighten them on who all these people are and what their relationship is – and most of all – how do I make them empathize with these characters and CARE about them, especially in a short story? Well, that’s the part that usually works itself out when I do as I first suggested here – just sit down and start writing. Once I did that, everything started coming together and now the story is flowing and I should have no trouble finishing it in a month. I think I have found a way to explain these characters while still zeroing in on Jake and his wife and just a couple of the grandchildren involved.
So sometimes procrastination is a good thing. It gives you time to sit back and contemplate the right way to go with your book. But it doesn’t mean you can go party or take a vacation or do puzzles or watch TV without giving any thought to your book. It should the “right kind” of procrastination, the kind that becomes a part of your writing life without taking away from what needs to be done and forcing you to frantically write any old thing just to reach a deadline. The end result should always be the same – write the best book you can write while giving it a lot of thought, and making it the kind of story readers won’t want to put down.
My story is called A CHICK-A-DEE CHRISTMAS, and it zeroes in on Jake and his two very delightful granddaughters, Tricia (5) and Sadie Mae (6). Sadie Mae is in charge of collecting eggs for the family and considers the baby chicks “her” babies. She calls them “chick-a-dees.” Believe me, those readers who understand the background and personality of Jake Harkner will find Jake’s sweet relationship with these little girls extremely amusing as well as extremely touching. Jake is a man of huge contrasts – ruthless to his enemies – (and I mean RUTHLESS!) - but all mush when it comes to his wife and family, especially these little girls. Something happens that shows Jake’s softer side – and also involves little Sadie Mae’s “chick-a-dees.”
I hope everyone will love the story, and I think once new readers do read it, they will want the much bigger story about Jake Harkner, a wanted man in OUTLAW HEARTS, and the woman who changes his life through over 30 years together in DO NOT FORSAKE ME, LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE and THE LAST OUTLAW. Enjoy!!