I planted potatoes yesterday. This morning I looked and they
weren't up yet.
That little vignette tells you
something about my character. I hate waiting. I especially
hate waiting in limbo. Experience and mother nature tell me that
my potatoes will come up but they'll need a couple of weeks in the
ground first. So while I'm in the seeding stage of the garden, I
wait, impatiently, but with reasonable expectation of fulfillment.
There is also waiting without
reasonable expectation of fulfillment, for the utility company to
return a phone call, for example. Who knows when or if the powers
that be in these places will deign to answer my plea? Last week I
spent two days waiting for a return phone call from a lawyer's
office. It never came. Two days of being afraid to leave
the house in case I missed the call. Two days of carrying my
cordless phone in my pocket (I don't have a cell). Two days of
stomach churning stress. Two days of waiting in limbo, the very
worst kind of waiting.
In real life, such
situations cannot be avoided. But in my reading life, I never
wait like that. After reading the first couple of chapters in a
book, I nearly always flip to the end. If the story has a
satisfying ending, I go back and read all the parts in the
middle. If the ending is so-so, the book gets tossed.
I know some will think I
cheat. A story is meant to unfold from scene to scene in the
order the author wrote it. Skipping to the end breaks the
rules. Maybe . . . but a story is meant to satisfy the reader
too, so if it fails in that respect, the author has cheated as
well. I don't apologize for reading the end before the
middle. I love solving sudoko and crossword puzzles but I want
the author to hurry up and answer the story questions for me.
So impatience is my
own personal quirk, usually harmless. As a writer however,
impatience can be a real problem. Given my druthers I'd just
blurt out everything I know at the beginning of the book and in ten
pages or less the story would be over. Now, that is
cheating. A reader who has bought a book expects more than a
rough summary. The reader expects character development, plot
complications, struggle and conflict and the hint of a universal truth
before she closes the book with a satisfied sigh. My ten page
blurt denies her all that.
Yet, if I hold off revealing
all the details, send my characters off on prickly paths or drag some
red herrings through the plot, I can lose track of where I'm going with
the tale or, worse, get bored with the whole thing and toss it
away. So, I've developed a secret weapon. I write the blurt
thing for myself. It isn't even a proper outline, beloved by the
"plotting author." It's just a blurt, with lots of holes
and improbable leaps of logic but it gets me through the beginning, the
black moment and on to the end while I'm still feeling the rush of
creative excitement I had when I first conceived the story. No
one but me ever sees those blurts, they are not good writing, but they
ease my impatience, reassure me that I do know the ending of the story
and allow me the freedom to play with the characters, fine-tune the
pacing and take the reader on a journey where she can't wait to learn
how it turns out. With any luck, she'll even skip to the end
first, then go back and read the rest.
My mom always said I was born in a hurry
and I've ben hurrying ever since. Now, I'm going out to see if
the potatoes are up yet.