For author Tina Connolly, the hardest part of her debut novel, Nebula Award nominee Ironskin, was the muddle in the middle. For the follow-up, Copperhead, there was no time to battle with such a muddle. There wasn’t in fact much time for anything other than writing: so that’s just what Connolly did.
By Tina Connolly:
So the hardest part of writing Copperhead was that I got busy. I mean insanely busy. The only thing more boring than listening to someone recount their dreams is listening to them drone on about how unspeakably busy they are, so suffice it to say I was already a very busy person, and then I had a baby. That was three years ago, and now, as I write this, I have had TWO babies, written two books, and moved to a fixer house that needed things like heat and wiring and fewer blackberry vines in the attic. Plus, I started the flash fiction podcast Toasted Cake (now at 94 episodes!) and continued to work as a face painter. Among other things.
The biggest change is that I’ve had to learn how to write on command. No more sitting around waiting for the muse, “warming up” (usefully) by writing something else entirely or (un-usefully) by playing five games of freecell. Here’s some take-away for you:
- If you have a dedicated chunk of time, reserve it. I could count on two hours every afternoon while the baby napped. So, I was not allowed to pay bills or do dishes or shower or anything else during this time. Those things can be done in tiny bits of time: while shoving a PB&J into your mouth (the dishes), when half-asleep (the bills), or skipped entirely (the shower). Only write.
- Plan ahead. I took the baby on morning walks and used the time to plan what I would do during the nap. When he was a toddler and we drove to weekly library story hour, I would turn on the recording of Winnie-the-Pooh in the back and think in the front. In this way I was able to work through a knotty scene and he was able to go around saying “tut tut, it looks like rain.”
- Cut, cut, cut. I’ve always been an organized person and used to wonder how people could say blithely, I just let the housekeeping go. Pre-baby, I didn’t seem to be able to let the housekeeping go. I was worried that this revealed me as small-minded and focused on the unartistic mundanity of living. And then, within one month of each other, I gained a baby and a deadline. I let the cleaning go. I let the filing go. I let it all go. I finally got a chance to sit down this month and go through the stacks of paper I’d accumulated over the last three years. I filled 14 grocery bags with little crosscut shreds.
- Try not to stress about the size and scope of your tasks. And don’t beat yourself up if you’re a slow writer (or drawer, or programmer, or . . .). Focus on one thing at a time. Have tunnel vision. Today, I will write this one scene. Today, I will take a shower.
PS: Oh, did you want to know the hardest part of the actual novel-writing process? Well, with this book it was knowing where all the scenes were supposed to go. I swear this book was like a jigsaw of moving all the scenes around, back and forth, until they finally fit together. There were a whole bunch of different beginnings (that eventually became later scenes). Segments moved forward and backward, jostling each other. When I finally finished my first draft, I had to do several passes just to make sure people knew things when they were supposed to and not several chapters in advance.
Thanks for having me on the blog, Sam!