Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Life Happens . . . : : Anne McAllister

. . . or how to write most of a book in three weeks while away from home which is not what you had in mind at all.

"Life is what happens when you're making other plans." John Lennon said it first (I think).

Most of us have said it since -- or at least acknowledged the truth of it.

My plan, back in September, was to go to England and France for two and half weeks, then come home and spent the next four and a half weeks working on a book due this coming Saturday.

The book had been stewing about in my brain for quite a while. I had lots of notes and I even had three plus chapters written and a rough idea of the rest of the progression of the story when I flew across the pond.

I intended to do research there for two other books -- and I did. For two and a half weeks, including a whirlwind trip to Cannes, life went according to plan.

I should have known . . .

While I was there my 8 year old granddaughter was diagnosed with mono and was missing lots of school. Her working parents -- who work two hours apart during the week -- needed someone to stay with her. So when I got home, my plan to settle down with the book evaporated. I did my laundry and caught a plane to Texas.

I just got back.

I discovered several things about life -- and writing -- in the past three weeks in Texas:
  • self-entertaining 8 year olds (yes, they do exist; at least one does) are wonderful focusers for the mind. If you want to keep them self-entertaining, you must at all costs be busy yourself. Thus you get a lot written.
  • writing is one of the careers you can take anywhere and it moves in a backpack. You can do it in doctor's offices, on planes, in rocking chairs while Webkinz are having a tea party all around you. You tune them out and thus you write a lot.
  • not being in your own house relieves you of the responsibility of seeing the food at the back of the refrigerator or that the oven could use cleaning. Thus you write more.
  • Wii Fit is not necessarily for elementary school age children and their mothers. Writers needing to stretch their muscles can also benefit. And I personally am hell on wheels at Table Tilt. You go back to the manuscript refreshed and smug because you've tipped all those little balls into all those holes -- and, rejuvenated, you write lots.
  • The Asus EEE PC (which I have had for over 6 months now and have taken everywhere) is God's gift to writers and gets online in places that confound me. It also allows you to write in places no one ever wanted to write - and thus you write more.
  • That I would not want to write a whole book on an Asus EEE PC because my fingers are too big and the space bar doesn't like me. But if you are not traveling every day you can take a bigger laptop as well which has room for fingers and an accommodating space bar. And thus you write more.
  • Skype is not quite as good as being home, but darn close. My dogs think I look funny on Skype. (So do they). But when I see them I'm happy, and thus I write more.
  • Flash Drives are another of God's many blessings, and you can name them (Mine are Kingston, Aruba, Thingy and Big Red) which makes them seem like accomplices or collaborators, and thus you don't feel quite so alone -- and then you write more.
  • That if your characters have been eating pizza for a month in chapter four, and you can't get them away from the dining room table, there is something wrong, and it is probably not the pizza. It probably even happened before you got them to the table. And if you figure out what it is, you can probably keep them away from the table and get past the scene and then you will write more (and get beyond chapter four and make your deadline -- and your editor will be happy).
  • That until you figure that out, you are perfectly within your rights to skip ahead and write the ending of the book and then go back and see if the rest of the cast is still dawdling over the pizza. Sometimes the perspective you get from the end will allow you to forego the pizza altogether (not always, but sometimes). In any case, when you're writing chapters nine and ten, you're writing more.
  • That spending one-on-one time with a grandchild (even a self-entertaining one) is a great joy -- and if you should happen to include a child of the same age in your book, the grandchild doesn't mind if you pick her brain for research. In fact she offers suggestions. And then, because she's reading over your shoulder, you write more.
  • That I can write 35,000 words in three weeks (who knew?) and type The End before a deadline.
  • And that when I do, I don't have to write anymore.

Or I won't until the book comes back for revisions.

Can you write with distractions? Or if you don't write, do you multi-task well? Do you like it or would you rather focus on one thing at a time? Do you have writing tools you wouldn't want to do without?

Stop by my blog and meet Big Red -- and check out my list of tools I wouldn't want to be without.


Tracy Wolff said...

I teach college writing, write five to six books a year and have three boys, two of whom are under five. If I didn't multi-task, I wouldn't get anything done. Ever. But it doesn't bother me anymore and in fact, I wonder what I'm going to do when my youngest hits school. I'll have way too much time on my hands.

Glad your granddaughter is feeling better.

Anne McAllister said...

Ah, Tracy, your ability leaves me gasping. I, too, multi-task, but I couldn't possibly write five to six books a year even if they locked me in a cave with a computer and no distractions.

Congratulations on your prodigious output -- and your boys and your teaching and all the other things you do to keep your world in balance!

Anna Campbell said...

Anne, congratulations on getting the book done under difficult circumstances! Bravo, you! I know I sound like a diva, but I have real trouble writing away from home. Not sure why!

Avi J said...

The best work is done under pressure. My lecturer always said this.

Helen said...

Well done I am not a writer but as a mother and grandmother I often multi task. When I am reading (which is often) I am happy to have music on and people around but cannot read while the grandchildren are around not that I would want to I do love playing with them.
I am glad your grand daughter is feeling better.

Have Fun

Gina said...

Wow you are very talented to finish it that fast. Best Wishes for your Grandaughter

Anne McAllister said...

Anna, thanks. I am still tinkering with it, but it should leave the premises tomorrow. You may find that you can write elsewhere if you are backed into a corner and there is not other option. But if you are sensible (which of course you are), you'll do your best to make sure that doesn't happen!

Avi, I hope your lecturer is right. Sometimes I think that's true because pressure does concentrate the mind (when it's not distracting it!).

Helen, I can read under any and all circumstances. But Granddaughter also reads, so she and I read in silence part of the time. But mostly I wrote. And, of course, we had a good time together, too.

Gina, Not at all sure it's talent. It's more that I knew this story from the inside -- minus the month spent eating pizza, obviously -- and when I had to, I could just immerse myself in it and write. Obviously I will be like Anna, letting the well refill after I've sent it in!

Marilyn Shoemaker said...

Such organization! Glad to hear your little one is doing better.

Question....when Lee and I attended a workshop the presenter had a notebook which I suspect might be like yours. Today on Dear here's a post. Is this what you have? "ASUS Eee PC 900A Best Buy is offering for $280. I'm thinking that Santa might want to bring me one!

Can't wait to read your book!

Pat Cochran said...

Congratulations on "writing more"
and finishing your book while on
"grandmother duty" down here in

Pat Cochran
(in Houston)

Anne Gracie said...

Great post, Anne.
Sometimes when you're busy, the book can be the perfect escape. At other times, if it's not working and you haven't yet worked out why, that's when I get distracted.

But sometimes when you're away, the distractions of traveling or being somewhere else don't interfere--they feed the muse. I usually do a lot of writing while I'm away or travelling. It's how I wrote my first novel.

By the way, you missed out on one really important writers tool, but don't worry — I'm blogging about it tomorrow ;)

Anne McAllister said...

Marilyn, Yes, that sounds very much like mine. My son as the 901 which has a faster processor and a longer battery life. He likes his a lot, too. Great price. They've dropped a lot. Tell Santa you want one!

Pat, thanks for the good wishes. Hope you have all recovered from the hurricane now. I know Galveston is still rebuilding. Up where my daughter is, they were fine.

Anne Gracie, I know what your "tool" is, but I could hardly take them traveling! See you tomorrow!

Annie West said...

Hi Anne,

I'm in awe of you turning out a book so quickly. And Tracy - I won't even mention my feelings of inadequacy hearing about your output.

I think though, Anne, that you do get to a stage if you know your story well, you can make enormous progress despite the circumstances. Usually I manage to produce with some distractions - part time day job, teenagers, elderly parents, husband who keeps visiting hospital this year (I hope he's bored with them - g!). But the last few weeks have been very challanging due to part time day job, teenagers, elderly parents get the picture. At the moment my little time writing is like a haven, compared with those weeks when I have more time to write and activities other than writing seem so tempting.

Love the sound of your dogs using skype. What clever canines!


Michelle Douglas said...

Oh, Anne, well done you!

I much MUCH prefer to write in my own little writing spot... but it's heartening to know that it is possible to change one's routine if and when life intervenes!

Thanks for such a heartening post!

Anne McAllister said...

Michelle, I used to think I wanted to write just in "my spot." But now I've decided that being somewhere else, where I am not responsible for everything -- only the book and the 8 year old -- is very freeing.

At least the book is done and gone and it isn't even due until tomorrow!

Michele L. said...

I am not the greatest muti-tasker but can read and watch the tv or listen to the radio at the same time. When I was going to college I would also study and listen to the radio at the same time.

Mutitasking is a fascinating ability. It is especially good for the brain. Doctor's say it is important to use your brain, like learning a new art form, do a puzzle, learn a language, anything to work the brain. This prevents Alzeheimer's. It is when you don't do anything like just sitting and watching the tv that you run into trouble.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Anne McAllister said...

Hi Michele,
Thanks for the excellent news about multi-tasking. I'm glad to know it isn't part of my life just to drive me crazy, but that there is a beneficial reason for it.

And I used to listen to LA Dodgers games and do my homework all the time. Never thought a thing of it. Made the homework easier, as a matter of fact, because it helped me tune out all the household distractions.