The Great Circle of Avoidance

Little dreaded routine tasks often destroy an hour or two out of my day. I don’t want to clear the sink and put the dishes in the dishwasher, so I watch an extra episode of a TV show, or I clean out a closet. Many of my drawers and cupboards owe their color-coordinated perfection to the looming presence of bill-paying, vacuuming, or putting out the trash.

Moderate-sized dreaded tasks, especially if they’re ambiguous, can destroy weeks. Do the income taxes, for instance. Arrange to have my sofa cushions replaced. I will put them in my task list, and then I stare at them and do something else entirely.

I don’t have writer’s block, as it is generally understood. Sit me down at a desk with a keyboard, or at a coffee shop table with a fountain pen and a journal, and I’ll write you a story.

But sometimes it’s not the story I’m working on right now, the one I really need to finish.

It really doesn’t happen often. I normally start my novels by sitting down and writing until I can’t figure out what comes next, which takes a couple of hours. The next day, somehow, I know what comes next, or at least the next thing appears when I start writing. Sometimes, indeed, I have to throw out ten pages or so when it turns out to be a blind alley, but that’s okay.

I can work for a solid month that way. And then something happens, and I start rethinking some of my choices. I can stave off the dreaded urge to rewrite the beginning of the book for a while, but then I come to a stop, realizing I have already started rewriting, but now the rest of the book doesn’t match.

Usually, I can fix that by (1) printing out what I have so far and putting it aside, and then (2) stopping and working on other writing for a while. Right now I have two novels in progress and a whole (terrible) other novel drafted, so that works out pretty well. If I’m desperate I start working on my calendar of first lines or on the short story collection.

This time, though, after I ground to a halt and printed out the fourth draft of a book in the Ways of Magic series, I looked at it and realized I was actually going to have to do what I don’t want to do: Make a timeline. (It didn’t help that I had to do a concordance for the other book I’m working on, too, the one I was going to go back to working on).

Some people prepare not only plot outlines, but also synopses and timelines, before they ever start writing. I don’t. I sometimes do them afterwards, of course. That’s how I dealt with the required outlines for papers in high school and college, too.

After I wrote the first two books, I did draft a concordance/summary/timeline for them because I knew it would make my editors happy, but I didn’t actually use it to write the second book, and I most certainly didn’t use it to write the third.

I realize this is counter-intuitive. If you have read the books, you should know that they have different first-person protagonists who are influential in galaxy-wide events and who only very slightly overlap in person. The events of the stories are interwoven intricately, however. But I mapped them out mostly from memory, and partly by glancing at the earlier manuscripts.

Now, however, there are three published books, and I have to actually know what happens when, because the current book starts before the events of Nameless Magery and finishes after The Stick Princess ends, and I have to make it all make sense, or I’ll run into major continuity errors.

I printed out the manuscript of Book 4 (Shadow Practice). Then I put the dishes away, cleared my inbox, organized my closet, and cleaned the downstairs bathroom. That didn’t work. I arranged for my sofa cushions to be replaced, scheduled two doctor appointments, did the federal income taxes, and ran a slew of errands. No luck.

There was no hope for it; the time-line had to be drafted. I brought out the manuscripts, opened the concordance, created an Excel spreadsheet, and got to work.

You know how long it took me to make the damn thing? Two hours. This morning.

You know why I started it today?

I don’t want to do my Saturday-morning bill-paying task. Oh yeah, and I have to format The Stick Princess for paperback. I don’t want to do that either. I’ll probably get to those when I finally sit down to do the state taxes.

So I’m writing a blog entry, of course.

It all gets done eventually, in the Great Circle of Avoidance.

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