Friday, October 22, 2010

Doing Things Our Own Way


I had a conversation with my agent a couple of days ago that reminded me of something that happened at the pool this past summer. Y’all know by now that I spent most of my sweltering summer at the swimming pool with my kids.

This particular day, I was there with my daughter and her best friend. Since we were at the pool between noon and 3, I’d packed a lunch so that we didn’t have to buy the expensive pool snack-bar lunch.

I’d stuffed a motley assortment in the cooler—1 peanut butter, 1 ham, a couple of apples, some chips, some cookies, some water, some lemonade. The kids came out of the pool, plopped down at the table, took things out of the cooler, ate off the table, dropped things on the cement, called the “five second rule” and ate everything I’d brought.

I was writing my book for a few minutes while they laughed and talked with each other. Then I put my notebook down and I talked to them while they ate about people I noticed at the pool—I wondered about people and what they were doing and where they came from and made up little scenarios about them for fun. They both came up with some of their own ideas about their fellow pool-goers. They stuffed the food down their throats and hopped back into the pool. I started writing Memphis BBQ 3 again, and looked up from time to time to make sure no one was drowning (and that the lifeguards looked like they’re on top of things.)

Suddenly this other mom sat down at the table next to me and I felt like a complete Mommy Failure. “Wait! Don’t touch! Don’t touch!” she said to her kids. She took out wipes and proceeded to wipe down the table and chairs. Then she spread the red towel you see in the picture down as a tablecloth (yes, I’m afraid I take pictures with my phone of anything I find interesting. :) I scare people sometimes…)as the two cute preschool children looked on.

She unpacked a HOT lunch from her cooler (which, I guess, makes it really a “heater”). Then, while the children ate lunch, she talked to them about how to tell time…pointing out the analog clock and quizzing each of the kids. She was completely engaged, though, instead of being distracted and vague like I was. At the end of it, she talked about simple addition and subtraction as she put things in and out of the cooler.

Then she talked to them about general pool safety.

But… the kids I brought to the pool just ate a (fairly) healthy lunch. They were happy. I did visit with them, but I didn’t strain their brain or anything. They were having a good time.

I’d done it all differently from the other mom. But, I think, we came up with the same results. Except that my kids didn’t learn anything too academic from our exchange. Maybe they were more creative during it, though.

She was a good mom. I think I am, too. But we parent differently—although hopefully both of us end up with children who’ve been well-raised.

Writing is like this. There must be at least a hundred different ways to complete a manuscript. Who cares as long as we all make it to the finish line? And, yes, hearing someone else’s success story about using a particular method may make me rethink mine…but after all, shouldn’t we just go with what works for us?

I talked to my agent a couple of days ago. I’ve got something new that I’m going to start working on in the next month. Of course, I’m also putting the finishing touches on the third Memphis barbeque book.

“Good thing you can keep these storylines straight!” she said with a laugh. “That’s where outlining and thinking it all out in advance comes in, right?” She’d talked to this other author who did a lot of outlining.

I paused. “Actually, Ellen, I…don’t outline.”

“Oh. Oh! Okay.” She thought about this for a minute. “But mysteries are really kind of complicated, though. An outline wouldn’t help?” she asked.

“I think outlining kind of messes me up, actually. I just make everything up as I go along. My first drafts are awful, but the mysteries end up making sense after the revisions.”

I’m sure this sounds like a really disorganized way of writing a book…especially to someone who isn’t a writer.

And there are writers I know of who have great careers and use a totally different process than I do. But we both sell our books.

Whenever I start questioning myself and the way I write a book, I just remind myself that it doesn’t matter how we do it—it’s just important that we write. We all have different processes---but then, we all end up with different books.

Do you have a writing process that works for you?