I have been telling my husband: if I had one week of total isolation I could finish my novel. Well, I got my chance to prove it. As of 8:00 am last Monday morning, I was HOME ALONE. For five days it was just me and my novel.
Day T-1: I wanted to hit the ground running so I cleaned my office (for the first time since 2013) and cleared my desk of everything not related to the novel-in-progress. The result was exhilarating and I decided I should do that more often.
Day 1: Problem: My novel’s ending does not work. I’ve been stuck on my ending for four years. I have tried several resolutions but they were either forced, pat, or unrelated to what the book is about. How could I make any real progress with this unresolved problem? And if I couldn’t make progress in a week of isolation, when would I ever? So there I was on Day 1, driving the last three family members to their departure gate, battling construction detours, lost, arguing, and nearly sent home by security. Bottom line: everyone departed. BUT as I drove away in the wake of that total chaos, after four years of eluding me, my new ending appeared. (Why? My theory is that I had been reading contest manuscripts and reviewing writing rules. In my subconscious the rules were applying themselves to my story and the ending worked itself out, helped by the adrenaline fueling our airport run.) Day 1 was great. I wrote a new synopsis to guide me and revised my beginning to fit the new end.
Day 2: Everything was crystal clear when I woke up. I went straight from my bed to my computer and started working. Every time I looked up an hour had passed. My husband called from Fairbanks to say goodbye as they headed out to remote country and I told him about the new ending. He has learned to conserve his enthusiasm when I have epiphanous mornings resulting in what, at the time, appears to be final glory. At noon I broke away from my novel for social interaction with live humans and while it was delightful and necessary for sanity, when I returned to my desk where 80,000 words, three story lines, and an unstable emotional arc had just had a 2 hour break, getting back to the drawing board was not as easy as it sounds. If I break for too long I have to start over and walk myself back down.
Day 3: I kept passing closets that need to be cleaned and rooms that need to be decluttered and, being home alone, there is that urge (that I never get when surrounded by family) to dig into the mess. Instead I ran some errands midday and when I got home in the afternoon, tired, I found myself reading bits of my first novel (the one in the drawer). It went downhill from there ending in a Facebook binge. I really don’t want to talk about Day 3.
Day 4: Made up for the previous day’s squandered time. I won’t even tell you what time I changed out of my nightgown. Worked from 7 AM to 9 PM without looking up. As in time lapse photography, you could see the sun moving across the sky, shadows shifting on my desk, and my hair going flat, but I did not move from my seat. Thoughts were allowed to develop without interruption or distraction.
Day 5: Running out of time, haven’t made enough progress, and now I needed to research new material. Found online resources and a book which I instantly downloaded to Kindle and read for way too long. I got the details I needed but had that bad feeling I was too far out on a research limb and needed to retrench. What was this novel about, again?
Day 6: Time’s up. My son must be fetched in 2 hours and although it will be just the two of us for another four days, the isolation part is over. Except, it’s not! Jet lagged, he went to bed as soon as he got home. I managed to finish the new ending before he woke up.
Day 7: It’s raining outside! Bonus Day! I read my whole manuscript. It took most of the day but I was able to make notes, review notes, and–most importantly–check out the new ending. Bad news–the new ending does NOT work. It is depressing. If I were a celebrity writer it would be critically acclaimed, translated into 32 Eastern European languages and filmed in black and white. But I’m me and this ending will not work. Bummed, I got in my car to drive 30 minutes to attend an event, lamenting my inability to produce given a week of isolation. But being in this hyper-concentration mode, I wasn’t 15 minutes from home when a twist came to me that fixes my ending problems.
So now, as soon as I post this blog, I’ll get back to work. I won’t be finished before the house is full of people again, but at least the heavy lifting will be done so that when my concentration is forced to break it will be the easy revisions left to do. Best thing: I can still produce in isolation.
(I should disclose that this is the 8th time I will have finished this particular novel).