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The 30-Minute Novelist
From:
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: New York , NY
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

 

JoBeth McDaniel
Novels, when abandoned, begin to stink. A journalist with a desk piled high with work may be able to ignore the odor, but it?s always there, the stench of neglect and dread.
For most fiction writers, there?s no deadline, no guaranteed payday  ? just a shadowy world that seems real only when the keyboard is clacking. As a journalist, I?ve taught myself ways to blow past the doldrums: write it rough, read my notes again, call another source.  Those tricks don?t work as well with fiction. A novel requires you to absorb any research, then sing the song it makes you feel. My manuscript gathered virtual cobwebs as I sat, mute.

It doesn?t get easier, a friend confesses over lunch. After 18 novels, with starred reviews and a shelf of awards, she took a long break. Now she fights the same battle: no contract, no urgency, no word count today. She tells me how she got started on her first novel: one hour each week at McDonald?s, writing in longhand.
I laughed. ?Really? Only one hour a week??
She nodded. ?Try it.?
So I did ? well, not at McDonald?s. Yet every week, in that one measly hour, the world intruded. A neighbor stopped by, with gossip and homegrown tomatoes. The washing machine sprung a leak. An editor I?d been trying to reach called with a rather large assignment ? on rush, of course.
Each time I returned to my manuscript, the stink had deepened. Characters drifted into my dreams, staring with dead eyes. I awoke restless, out of sorts with my routine workaday writing.
So I compromised:  thirty minutes. It was all I could bear.
How much, you wonder, can you really do in half an hour? Not much, at first. I held my nose and cleaned up the muck: moldy adjectives, wilted verbs, rotted subplots. After reading one putrid chapter, I scribbled a fresh new one, then rewrote another. I looked up, blinking. Hours had passed.
My experience reminded me of the fable about stone soup, how the man started with nothing and ended up with dinner for a crowd. The miracle of those thirty minutes is that, like rock and hot water, it creates the space for more writing to emerge and grow.
Last weekend, as I was sitting on a beach, a wisp of a thought slipped into my mind. I rolled it around, studying it like a pebble, nearly gasping out loud when I realized: this is it. This is what needs to happen, in chapter one. It sets up the ending I?ve been seeking, the one lost piece of the puzzle.
I stood up and walked to the water?s edge, dipping my toes in the waves and smiling, eager to get home ? and write.

 
Alexandra Owens
Executive Director
ASJA (American Society of Journalists and Authors)
New York, NY
212 997-0947
212 937-2315