By Lisa Lipkind Leibow
Getting a story out of my head and onto the page can require huge blocks-of-time. If I’m gearing up to dump a first draft from my brain, I tend to front load my “real life” chores by stocking the fridge with meals so I can just stick them in the oven, and having plenty of take-out menus at the ready for nights when I can’t be bothered with cooking. I have even been known to purchase my family some extra underwear, so I can stretch out the time between loads of laundry… (is that bad?). I try to anticipate what I will be ignoring while getting lost in my fiction, and handle it up front.
Once I read that first draft (fit for nobody’s eyes but my own), marking it up with ideas for new scenes, thoughts about something I’d like to add, move, or change. I clean up wording as I go, and enhance narrative, fine-tune dialogue, and more. I mark these notes within the text with asterisks. The asterisks make it easy for me to find places within the manuscript I need to tackle. I work my way through each starred-notation, sometimes in big chunks of time, sometimes five-minutes-here, five-minutes-there. This part of my writing process fits more easily into the happy chaos of my real life.
However, at certain points in my creative process, I need additional, huge chunks-of-time, as I did when getting the story out of my head and onto the page. In particular, I need uninterrupted time to comb through a manuscript to evaluate the big picture and to identify plot holes, opportunities to enhance narrative, and areas I need to delve deeper into a character’s emotion. During these times, if I haven’t planned well enough up-front, I usually let dishes pile in the sink, let my family find and fold their own laundry, and order take-out for dinner every night.
If I’m lucky, I can escape for a few days on my own and focus solely on the book. I come away from these retreats or total immersion with a game plan. I list all of the scenes I need to touch, all of the descriptions of important objects, or characters, or setting. I use this check-list to tackle my re-write in bits and pieces, fifteen minutes here, a half-hour there. This way, my re-write phase can carry on while I manage real-life alongside my characters’ fictional lives.
Recently, I graduated from aspiring novelist to published author. This accomplishment makes me glow with pride – and adds new responsibilities to the balancing act writer’s life vs. real life. Marketing and promotion of my work takes up hours of my day I used to devote to the creative process and to sleeping. I’m still learning to fit this aspect of the writing life into my world.
I’m attempting to carve out an hour or two a day to devote to interviews, website updates, blogging, social networking, and book signings. But this means I have a little less time for everything else. Lately, strictly enforcing my children’s chore list, and having the family eat on paper plates has given me a little extra time to devote to promoting my writing to the public.
So, you see, my balancing act of real life and writer’s life is a combination of plan-ahead and let-it-slide. Somehow, I manage!
After being stuck at her office on 9/11, a month-long siege on metro Washington, DC by a sniper, and discovering that the other parents at her twins’ preschool thought her au pair was her sons’ mom, Lisa could hear these words echoing in her ears. “If I knew this was what it was going to be like to have it all, I would have settled for less.” (Lily Tomlin: The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe)
Lisa didn’t really settle for less. She settled for different, and traded the billable hour lifestyle for fiction writing. Making up stories is much more fun than negotiating contracts, attending hearings, and deciphering statutes and regulations for clients. More than that, it has given her an excuse to pretend to be anyone from airplane pilot to zookeeper!
Lisa lives and writes in Northern Virginia with her husband, three children, a couch potato of a dog, and two red-eared slider turtles.