Saturday, January 2, 2010

How I work

Yesterday I dismantled my makeshift desk next to the Christmas tree in the living room: I'm done with the art for the third Ellie McDoodle book. Well, mostly done; there'll be a few revisions/requests.

For a month I've had a mini-studio set up in the middle of the family action, because while writing is more of a solitary venture, art requires the energy of people around me. Plus I need short, intermittent bursts of breaks from it to keep it fresh, whereas with writing, breaks can sound the death knell of creativity.

Upon my mother in law's death a couple weeks ago we inherited, among other treasures, two tv tables. I've wanted a pair of tv tables for a long time (I knew they'd be perfect for temporary desks), and these came at a useful time.
Before them, I stacked things on an ottoman; not very stable, no leg room.

So this was my portable art studio:
- one tv table with my editor's handwritten notes on the penciled art pages, plus a Mason jar of water and a bag (
pink wintergreen lozenges) or roll (Mentos) of mints, plus an assortment of bad carbs and good raw veggies.
- second tv table with my lightbox balanced on top. On that, graph paper, pencil, two pens, razor blade for mistakes, and the penciled rough to be inked.
The light box isn't the nice one I used in college or at my job at MSU. It's an 18" x 24" cardboard strawberry box from a supermarket with a hinged plexiglass lid which is still encased in the blue plastic I bought it in years ago. The blue cuts the light and reduces glare. Better would be a portable box with frosted glass. Someday...
Inside the box is a portable flourescent light fixture with an on/off switch.

- round plant table with a box of files on it: About 2,000 papers which include drafts 1, 2, and 3 of this book, both writing and art, editor comments, a thin sheath of loose paper for inking (too thick a packet is discouraging), a couple encouraging notes from my agent and editor, and a folder of "Must adds". I hope I remembered to add all the musts. . .

Every day at about 1pm I set up my workspace next to the Christmas tree, across from the tv, turned on the tv and all the lights in the living room and plugged in the tree lights and the light box.
I settled in for about 15 hours of work, taking only very short breaks, working until 4 - 6am, quitting when hallucinations started. I'd watch whatever not-too-mindless thing was on tv (on our new Christmas present, DirectTV): Dog Whisperer, Mythbusters, anything on Science, Nat. Geo. or Discovery Channel, sometimes a movie (my favorite was The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, about a lady carrying sextuplets; wartime America's response to the Dionne quints in 1944). I learned about survival techniques used in disasters (have confidence, take immediate action, believe your time is limited, practice evacuation routes in advance), how to make a car skip across a pond like a stone (redistribute the weight, pump up the acceleration to 100 mpg), what's the dirtiest thing in your house (kitchen sponge), secrets of Pompeii (I don't know why, but this story has gripped me since I was a small child), and I scrawled down the websites and prices of at least a dozen infomercial products that looked like a good deal to my addled brain. I watched Clean House on the Style channel, wished I could do that to my house, but disliked the sometimes-bullying tactics.

I worked methodically, sometimes stopping for commercials and sometimes working through them and stopping for the main attraction, usually mixing both. I tried to ignore the page number of the art I was working on because knowing I still had 75 pages ahead of me would be paralyzingly disheartening.
I ignored the phone and email. Opened Christmas cards, read them, grunted appreciation, and got back to work.
Went to Christmas parties only because I had to. Ate no meals in the dining room. Barely showered.
Paid attention to my kids or spouse or grandkids only when necessary.
I quit working in the wee hours of the morning, turned off all the lights, put my work in a safe place, scrubbed my face and teeth and collapsed into bed, then woke up 6-7 hours later and started again.

Some days I was very productive. Some days it felt like I worked and worked and worked and accomplished almost nothing. That's typical for a book.

When it was all over early Saturday morning I spent a few hours copying all the art, then took a nap, then ran it all over to UPS.
It will arrive in NYC on Monday morning.
Next I'll make the text revisions requested by my editor, and unfortunately that's a more solitary task. I don't have a good computer to work with in the living room yet. When all the text changes are done there will be a few art revisions to make, and then my editor will send ARCs (galleys) for copyedits. That will take a couple weeks -- it'll probably be the end of January. I think? Then I jump into the next book, a novel, with a synopsis and 3 chapters due ASAP.
I'm filled with such self-doubt right now, despite meeting this huge deadline. I worry they won't love the novel. But maybe they will. It's about a girl who has trouble balancing things in her life. Sounds familiar, eh?
As they say, write what you know.

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