One Bite at a Time




Thursday, March 13, 2014

OCD (Observing Creative Discipline)

I have definite, not overwhelming, obsessive-compulsive tendencies. I don’t wash my hands every time I touch something, or close doors three times before passing; I do seem to have an inordinate fear of overlooking something. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if the condition can be harnessed. I once locked my keys in a running car twice in the space of two weeks; now I never lock any door unless I’m looking at—or physically touching—the key that will get me in. I haven’t locked myself out of anything in almost twenty years. I consider that a win.

A bit of manageable OCD can work wonders for a writer. I have a routine, most evident in final drafts:

1. Search and destroy as many “clutter” words as possible: but, was, were, just, enough, very, actually, and a few others. (Adverbs.) They may serve as scaffolding in early drafts, adding little or nothing to the final product. (Exceptions made for dialog.)

2. On Day One, read Chapter One. That’s all; read it.

3. The next day, I read Chapter One aloud from the screen and make when I intend to be the last serious edits. Then I read Chapter Two.

4. The following day, I read aloud from a hard copy of Chapter One, and make any last minute changes, knowing I do not intend to look at this again unless an agent or editor requests. Read Chapter Two aloud from the screen and edit. Read Chapter Three.

5. Repeat until the book is finished. (Sometimes doubling up on days off from the day job.) Then, and only then, I type THE END.

This may seem tedious. It gives me a sense of performing my due diligence. The payoff comes in comments I have received about how clean my manuscripts are. I detest the idea of wasting someone’s time through my carelessness. (Aside: Twice in the past two weeks I’ve read books where “reign” was used when the proper word was “rein.” With my routine in mind, if I ever turn in a manuscript with “rein” and see a galley with “reign,” there will be hell to pay.)

The same applies to my reading. Growing involvement in social media—blogs and Facebook, for the most part—exposed huge gaps in my knowledge of my chosen field. I’ve worked to close these gaps, and found many wonderful writers. On the down side, many favorites fell through the cracks. It’s been five years since I read a Robert Crais novel; last month I discovered it had been seven years since my last Carl Hiaasen.

How do I know this? In 2006 I started a spreadsheet to track the books I’d read. I was curious about how many books I read in a year, and also needed to overcome a habit of not remembering titles and buying books I’d already read. One of my better ideas, the spreadsheet allows me to track my best reads of each month and year, and is fun to scroll through to read what I wrote about certain books at the time.

A lot of good stuff still got missed. I altered the format of the spreadsheet to include a “Books To Be Read” list where I add books and authors as I become aware of them. The list now extends 102 books into the future, a more daunting prospect than anticipated. The good news—for me—is I no longer have long gaps between the books of favored authors; as soon as I finish a book I like, he or she is added to the end of the list. I never stand in front of shelf of books, wondering what I’m in the mood to read next. I check the spreadsheet, and there it is. I look ahead a bit to build anticipation for upcoming books, so I am in the mood when their turn hits. Books are bought a little ahead of time to keep the process moving.

Extreme? Maybe. What about you? How do you keep from letting the rest of your life from distracting you from the reading and writing you really want to do? (All comments received before 11:59 EDT Sunday, March 16 will be entered into a drawing for a copy of Grind Joint.)

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