How Parenting Makes me a Better Writer (Part Three)

About a month ago, my novel hit 35,000 words, and a mental roadblock. I had a minor climax approaching quickly, and I was terrified. The novel had gone rambly and boring, and I had no clue how I would possibly bring all those random threads together into a convincing and interesting little scene. Besides, I knew nothing about homemade weapons. It was time to bring in the experts.

Meet Monty, age 12; Eli, age 9; and Everett, age 5.

The Weapons Team

We spent about two hours around the kitchen table, drawing diagrams, maps, and illustrations, discussing available materials. They may not remember to put the trash in the can or know the difference between a clean dish towel and a filthy rag, but if you need an injection of wildly creative genius on weapons building… find a pre-teen boy.

The upshot of that session was that the next time I sat down to write, the scene flowed beautifully. I did it. And it was awesome. I know when something is awesome because it triggers my tear-meter. You know the tear-meter, right? When something touches you so that tears spring to your eyes without falling, that’s a level 1 on the tear meter. When you’re bawling uncontrollably with your hands over your eyes and you can’t stop, that’s a 10. I was going for about a three or a four in this scene and BINGO. The tear meter is also sometimes how I know an idea for the novel is going to work–because it triggers a level 1 or 2 response just thinking about it. That’s how I knew one of my characters had to stay in–she triggered a five.*

I also knew the mini-climax scene had worked when, later, I read it back to the kids and they were cheering and gasping and “Hey, that was my idea! You put it in there! And it was awesome!”ing.

So that’s why, when I hit 82,000 words yesterday and realized I was in the same spot again, I took Monty with me down to the lake. By “the same spot,” I mean that I’m nearing another climax–the chief climax of the book–and I’ve gone long and rambly. I’ve added characters and tangents and events that are really cool and fun… but aren’t doing much to get me toward the climax. It’s a form of procrastination.

So I grabbed the dog, and the 12-year-old, and a pair of sandals that I would later regret having worn, and went for a brisk walk. We circled our 2-acre lake about three times, and Monty and I, we sorted it out.

Let me backtrack. I didn’t actually know what the heck I was doing. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression and think I was planning this, that I’m so organized as to know just exactly what I need to do all the time. No no.

I just knew I needed to think. We had most of the day off for the 4th, and I was frustrated with the elusiveness of the darn climax and needed some air. Dogs like walks. So do 12-year-olds when it means alone time with Mom. And he agreed to be quiet and leave me alone, so I let him come.

Only, I didn’t need him to be quiet after all.

We got down there, me muttering things to myself, and then talking out loud, and then asking questions. And, once I admitted that I wanted him to talk to me after all, Monty had ideas. Lots of ideas. Really, really good ideas. In fact, I’m really not sure how much of this novel I can take credit for any more.

By the time we got back, I was clear. This morning I wrote a scene. Tomorrow I’ll write the one after that. And in about a week I will have a climax. And it’s going to be helluva good. I can say that because it wasn’t my idea, so it’s not bragging to say it out loud, right?

Can I also just get a heck yeah for a twelve-year-old who uses the words “protag” and “fan fic” correctly, and can point out when one of my characters is a foil for another? Want interesting kids? Involve them in your life. And be interesting. (Whatever that means to you.)

Conducting field research

P.S. BONUS FEATURE of parenting while writing: You have a built-in fan base. My older two are already plotting fan fiction based on my story. Whoa. Tear meter just registered a 3. Excuse me a minute.

P.P.S. This isn’t actually part three in a series. I know it says “Part Three” up there. I’m not sure why it says that. I seem to periodically write these pieces that touch on parenting, and numbering them gives me an excuse to link to the others, I guess. Anyway. Part One. Part Two.

*The tear meter is probably a really crappy way of making decisions about a novel. I promise the whole thing isn’t a cry-fest. If I pull it off, there will be laughing and cheering too. And plenty of good-old-fashioned fun.

6 thoughts on “How Parenting Makes me a Better Writer (Part Three)

  1. I like it! I’m kinda famous for pretty much never asking anyone how I should write anything, so if I write an entire book with no input, sometimes I’ll start getting feedback for why it doesn’t work during the “crap, well now it’s done, and I have a lot of work to do to REdo it now” phase. I guess I still prefer that to having other people’s fingerprints on my work in the creation phase, but everyone works differently. And I don’t have kids. My problems seem to involve staying in characters’ heads too much and giving a picture of what’s around them too little. I don’t know how bad the problem is until I start requesting feedback, and I never do that until after it’s completely written.

  2. Yeah, I’m with Julie. I want very little feedback. In fact, wanting feedback is a sign that I’m not as interested as I should be. At least that was the case for my last one.

    That’s different than wanting people to be interested though, which is why I post snippets on my blog sometimes and also complain on Facebook about people not being interested.

    • Also I can make a very good case for having too much feedback early on killing my last novel. I was in a writer’s group that…. was horrible. They were all nice individually, but the sum of us was creative death.

      • Ooh. Wow, that sounds awful. “Too many cooks in the kitchen.” I read a piece for someone who had this happen to her, and by the time I saw it it was full of other people’s opinions and wasn’t hers anymore. She explained this to me when I pointed out the puzzling inconsistency of the tone and voice. If you’re going to absorb other people’s feedback during the creation phase, you’ve got to be sure your voice is pretty solid and that you’ll spin it all through your writer’s spinning wheel, so to speak, before planting it into the manuscript. Well, that or name a co-author. ::laughs::

  3. Interesting! I can definitely see how feedback could be killer. It’s killed a few short stories for me, where I kept trying to make things work like the feedback said they should and finally just threw up my hands and said, “This is crap. I give up!”

    For some reason, feedback has had the opposite effect for this book. Partly, I think, because I’ve been judicious in how much and from whom I have solicited it. Even my husband hasn’t read it yet, and I’m being deliberately cagey about not providing snippets or details here on the blog–I actually took out quite a bit of the original blog post before publishing this, because I decided it had too much from the book.

    I think the reason this specific type of feedback works for me this time and in this specific circumstance that it’s more like research than feedback. My boys have information that is valuable to me, the way that going to a rocket science center and asking questions about what it’s like to invent rockets would be useful if I were writing a book that has rockets in it. I said rockets way too many times in that sentence.

    Anyway. I’m sure I will still have plenty of “crap, that didn’t work, and now I have to redo it” work after my betas get their hands on it. We shall see. :)

  4. Pingback: It’s Not Magic. Well, Maybe. | Writer for Life

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