Work in Progress

 

 

I used to have this weird typo tic where I never got the acronym for work-in-progress right. It always came out WOP. I’ve even tweeted about my wop and never noticed until it was too late.

Maybe there was something Freudian about this little tic. Because “wop” always makes me think about a cartoon where some character is being repeatedly bludgeoned over the head.

Not that my works in progress always make me feel that way. It depends what stage I’m at and, frankly, what kind of mood I’m in. I think every writer has those in-progress ups and downs, where the manuscript seems to shimmer and you hate it one day and love it the next. Or both at once. It takes on the quality of one of those hologram cards we used to find in cereal boxes, changing its nature completely with just a flick of the wrist.

Right now, my big project is BOOK NUMBER TWO, which has a reputation in the literary world as being a really tough book. I started mine years ago, after I had finished The Dream Peddler and discarded my NaNoWriMo book because I hated it. My book two is a coming-of-age about two eighth-graders whose growing friendship becomes a lifeline as they both struggle with troubles at home, all the while unaware of just how intimately they’re connected. Unlike the premise for The Dream Peddler, which I’d been thinking about in the back of my mind for many years, the inspiration for this book really came to me in a flash, and it was so compelling that I had to follow it to see where it would lead. 

I’m not sure what sparked the scene that came into my mind. Maybe it was nothing in particular. Maybe I’d been thinking back on the time I accidentally ran over a wild dog that was crossing an eight-lane highway in Houston, killing him instantly and sobbing all the rest of the way to pick up my son from preschool. Whatever it was, I had an image out of the blue of a parent and child in a truck hitting a dog and somehow slicing its belly open. The child discovered something the dog had eaten—I wasn’t even sure what the thing was, only that it was very valuable or very important to someone—and pocketed it without anyone noticing. That was pretty much it. I had an overwhelmingly strong feeling that if I could figure out who the family in the truck was, and who the object belonged to and how the dog came to eat it, I would have the makings of something. Since I’m a pantser, I started following my nose, figuring out the configurations of the families and how they would intersect. More characters came in, and the story grew.

book two on post-its

Working on this book came with its own particular challenges. I was still living outside Philadelphia at the time, and I was still going to my writing group every Tuesday morning. We’d always spend about twenty or thirty minutes writing to a prompt. I was finding that no matter what the prompt was, the characters from my book would jump in and want to be part of it. I wrote a lot of scenes this way, so they were in no particular order, and I wasn’t sure how to use them. Of course, I didn’t have to use any of them—they could have been background writing just for me. But I liked a lot of them. They worked. They felt as if they should have a place in the final book, but first I had to figure out how they would join up. And I had to write all the scenes that would fit in between.

Needless to say, this book was one giant mess. It was a pack of scenes that needed to be organized and then combed through for inconsistencies: “Oh, wait, this scene with the argument can’t go here, she doesn’t even know about that yet,” and so on and so forth. I ended up describing each scene on a post-it and spreading them out on my dining room table so I could figure out how to organize them. And yes, I am aware of the existence of Scrivener. A writer friend showed it to me, and I hated the interface and vowed never to use it. I’m a low-tech person. I write all my books by hand, then type them up. And apparently I use little scraps of paper to make sense of what I’ve written. Eventually, I got it into some kind of reasonable shape, ran it through a couple of beta readers, and sent it off to my agent. She had virtually no idea what to expect—I never discussed it with her. I’d been so deep into this book when I signed with her, not finishing it never really felt like an option. Once I fall in love with the characters that’s pretty much it for me—I have to see it through.

Luckily, she seemed to be okay going forward with it, and gave me some great notes to work with, so this is still my wip. Sometimes I’m grateful that my publishing deal was only for one book, and I could take as long as I liked to write a second. It took me a long time to learn how to toggle back and forth between two books, working on this one, then going back to The Dream Peddler when copy edits or what have you came in, and then back again. But I am getting better at it. The characters of my book three have already started clamoring for my attention while I work on these edits. If everything works out, the next book you see from me will be about my beloved, troubled eighth-graders. Fingers crossed!

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Martine Fournier Watson is originally from Montreal, Canada, where she earned her master's degree in art history after a year spent in Chicago as a Fulbright scholar. She currently lives in Michigan with her husband and two children. The Dream Peddler is her first novel.

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This article has 2 Comments

  1. It’s amazing isn’t it, how characters in books seem to have real lives apart from their creators, and make demands on us as writers.

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