Seasonal Effective Disorder

As a rule, I hate winter. I hate the bitter cold, the driving winds, the ten thousand inches of snow that has been getting dumped on Massachusetts over the past several winters. Nothing much to love about it.

What I do like: the excuse to light a fire in the fireplace in the bedroom (yes, I have one, be jealous) and crawl into a bed piled high with blankets and pets and be cuddly with my wife; and my insane writing output.

Winter is very much the off-season for renaissance faires in this area, so my creative energy is not getting siphoned off in other directions. Couple that with ample reasons to stay indoors and I become a crazed writing machine.

It seems I’ve entered that mode prematurely. As noted previously, the first draft of my young adult novel project (Action Figures) came together inside of a month, and right now I’m diving into my work-for-hire murder mystery job. The show is set at a spy convention, so it’s a chance to have fun with some of the hoary old tropes of the spy genre.

Both projects have reinforced in my mind some quirks of my personal process. With Action Figures, I was reminded why I am such a hardass about seeking out solid constructive criticism. One of my test-readers, the whip-smart and highly observant Julie T., gave me some excellent feedback and made some points about the behavior of teenagers I would never have twigged to myself (what with me being several years removed from my adolescence).

With the murder mystery, I became very aware of how “organic” my process is. I say “organic” because “disorganized” or “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” makes me sound like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Since this is a work-for-hire gig, I was asked to prepare a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of the story — something I never do for my own work, but here it was necessary so my employer had something to show his clients (all the more important since, I learned, the clients in question had no idea how a murder mystery dinner was supposed to work).

While it helped me organize some major plot points and gave me a road map for the scripts, I feel it’s also fencing me in a little since I’m somewhat obligated to follow the path I’ve laid down. There’s not as much room for spontaneity, and I feel like I do my best work when I have enough of a game plan to keep me on-track getting from point A to point B, but not so much of one that I can’t follow my instincts. Many is the time I’ve typed a line of dialog that sparks my imagination and sends the story in an exciting and totally unanticipated direction, and I’m at my creative best when I surprise myself. It keeps my creative engine firing.

That can’t happen much this time, and I worry that the end product will feel too stiff and I don’t know how to apply to writing a lesson I learned as a stage combatant. When learning a fight, you start off just trying to get the moves down in your muscle memory. Then you get to the point where you remember the moves fine and can perform the fight competently, but you’re stuck in a static rhythm in delivering the cuts and parries and have to “sloppy it up,” as one of my regular fight directors likes to say. Those nice, precise, well-timed moves have to be broken up a bit, the rhythm disrupted, the execution made to look more natural and less rehearsed.

So yeah, that’s what I might need to do in subsequent drafts if it’s looking like the script is just too polished and clean, but I’ve yet to figure out how to retroactively insert a natural, organic feel to my writing. I think with me, once it’s been cleaned up, there’s no going back to mess it up a little.

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