Old Rituals

For many years, immediately following the completion of many book manuscripts, it was my custom to clear off my desk and clean out my office once the latest effort was in the mail to New York.

Ritual? Ceremony? Whatever the label, it marked an occasion. My manuscript notes and drafts were tidied away. I saw the surface of my desk again. In effect, I was clearing away one story and cast of characters to open the gate for new ideas to come through.

This January, I completed book 3 of THE FAELIN CHRONICLES and emailed it to my editor. These three YA novels moved me fully into the electronic age. This is the first contract I’ve ever worked on that didn’t involve a paper copy of my manuscript, usually a ream or more of pages neatly printed and stacked in a manuscript box, prepped for mailing.

On the positive side, I’ve saved a big chunk of money on paper, printer ink, and flat-rate postage.

On the negative side, the ritual of cleaning out the office hasn’t happened in quite a while. Not, in fact, since I moved to this house. Of course the move itself was a scramble, a seemingly Herculean effort in 100+ degree heat, and it put me so behind on my deadline that I crawled into this house, left the boxes untouched, and wrote like the furies.

But instead of parading to the post office and waving bon voyage to a heavy stack of paper, I clicked a button. The ritual was lost, sucked into the ether of the Internet.

Something important in my writing routine is now lacking. Two novels have been produced in this office that I’m barely acquainted with. I can’t remember when I’ve seen the top of my desk. My files have yet to be organized. My manuscript notes lie in chaos. My reference books are scrambled and stacked in hazardous heaps.

How can a new idea possibly enter this environment? The gates are grown over with the vines of clutter, saying (in effect), “New Idea, you’re not welcome here.”

It’s time to regain the ritual. I’ll have to create a new ceremony to replace the preparation of the manuscript box. I need the closure. It will force me to resume the good habits of cleaning and clearing.

And it will remind me that my months of hard work on each book have culminated in a tangible result, of which I can be proud.

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Old Rituals

  1. Nick DeFelice

    Hi Deborah,
    One of your former students, Jim Butcher, tells a little story about you at his book signings. He basically says he was unsuccessful until he took your advice and did a lot of prep work (your worksheets) before he wrote his next novel (Storm Front).
    I would like to try your approach with my own writing, and I was hoping you would blog about what a writer should prepare before writing their novel/screenplay.
    Thanks for your time!

    Nick DeFelice

  2. Ooh. I’m always interested in seeing these kinds of things as well. I haven’t read Jim Butcher but what worksheets is this commentor referencing? Are they available somewhere or a closely guarded secret?

    • Deb

      Jim Butcher is referring to some handouts that I give students in my Writing the Novel class at the University of Oklahoma. I’m happy to share some of what I teach in these blog posts, but I don’t reveal all of it. I figure the people that pay tuition to take my classes deserve something special.
      🙂 Deb

  3. Hi again, Deborah, 🙂

    After reading your reply to the other commenter, I’m wondering if OU might ever put some writing classes online for self study? And would you ever consider publishing/self publishing a book on writing. Writing books from successful, working novelists seem very uncommon and there’s definitely room for another. (I’ll be happy to pre-order! :P)

    Also, I’ve read ‘Techniques of the Selling Writer’ and I got a quick look at ‘Writing the Short Story: A Hands-On Writing Program’, and was hoping you might give us your opinion on them and whether they provide an adequate starting point for a novelist?

    Thanks again!,
    Nick

    • Thanks for the suggestion about putting together a book on writing. I’ve thought about it for several years, but I never seem to make time to do it.

      The Dwight Swain text, TECHNIQUES OF THE SELLING WRITER, is the book that was assigned to my writing classes when I was a student at OU. I practice its principles every day, and it’s an excellent foundation for any would-be novelist. However, I think it’s better as a supplement to lecture than standing on its own. Jack Bickham’s WRITING NOVELS THAT SELL was his attempt to take Swain’s methods and make them more approachable to people trying to figure out these things by themselves.

      In the past year, my department at OU has been working on organizing an online writing course. I don’t know whether it’s ready to go yet, but I’ll try to let you know its status when I find out. OU’s a big place with the pile of red tape attendant with any large bureaucracy, so things happen slowly. I won’t be teaching the online stuff, but everyone on our professional writing faculty is an active, publishing novelist.

      -Deb

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