BEHIND THE LINES WITH DR: Writing Process – The Fog at the End of the Tunnel

Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.

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So it’s a school day. My turn to drive. Kids are ready, pile into the jalopy, seat belts, music, and away we go. The drive is routine. Ten minutes tops. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

writing process 2“Dad?” pipes my son.

“Yeah, buddy,” I answer.

“Where we going?” he asks.

“Ha ha,” I retort.

“Really dad? Where are we going?”

“Where do you want to go?”

“School?”

“Good idea.”

“Well, you missed the exit.”

“I didn’t,” I reply, only then fixing my eyes on the nearest freeway sign. I was already a mile past the offramp. I’d missed the turn. Whoops.

This, I’m afraid, wasn’t the first time. And though I’d like to think I’m only as absentminded as the next car pool jockey, there are days—weeks even—when I could be identified as having early dementia. Only my fugues are entirely predictable, almost always occurring when I’m at the end of a project. Finishing up. Putting on my last touches. Yet still in the haze of the narrative, weighing the micro versus the macro while seemingly unable to see the forest through the trees.

This behavior in me is usually reserved for first drafts. When the story has gone from only existing inside my skull to existing on paper. Unread by others. Yet to be besmirched by another’s red ink.

It’s a sort of a birthing process. Only in a bizarre way, it is like both giving life while at the same time being born yourself. The tunnel that’s supposed to have the light at the end is the birth canal. But somehow, just shy of coming through, a fog sets in as I fight for those last yards.

Now, I don’t write much about my writing process. I’m more of a story spinner, hoping you, the reader, are able to pick out whatever life lessons you can glean from my most recent tale of what-the-hell-just-happened?

Not that this post is that different. And I promise to conclude it with an amusing stumble or two.

When I closed out 2014 with my last blog of the year, I stated I was clearing the deck so I could finish my most recent novel, 99% KILL. And to that end, I’ve succeeded. As I compose this missive, I’m mere days away from concluding my revisions. I’m at the end. And the air is so dense I’m not sure I could find my ass with a follow spot and three skilled Sherpas.

There’s a part of me that feels as if I’m diseased with a contagion. That if I wanted to—and really, really pushed—I could vomit the illness out of me. This is not to be confused with the famous “vomit draft” often spoken of in TV circles, where the writer just dumps his load on paper and uses subsequent passes to sort through the undigested muck. No sir. This is akin to having concocted a twelve-course meal, planning the service down to the last fork and napkin ring, prepping and cooking every course, consuming every portion using only a single toothpick, only to discover one’s digestive track works no faster or with any more sophistication than a slug-sucking cement through a cocktail straw.

Sure, sure. I could pull all-nighters, get it all down and out and be done with it. But moving too fast has its own perils. My work will usually suffer. Therefore I must suffer—as well as those around me—until the virus passes.

I read once that Michael Crighton struggled at the end of every book. His malady was sleeplessness. He said during the last week of writing a novel, he’d wake at six in the morning to begin his work. Then the next day it was five. Then four. Three. Eventually, he would finish in a sleepless rush and be done with it.

I’ve also read about authors who so loathe finishing a work, they must lock themselves away to complete it. Alex Haley used to book passage on cargo freighters where the only distractions were the lousy meals, the occasional walk along the lonely decks, and the endless miles of ocean. I’m sure this aided in a far greater sense of focus. I wonder if it also worked to propel him through the hard passages and the oppression that comes with finishing.

Mind you, when it comes to craft or talent I don’t compare myself in any way to either of those publishing behemoths. I do though appreciate hearing about their writing process and the skills they used to scale their mountains of words.

Just two days ago, as I was off to pick up my darling daughter from school, I stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven for a dose of caffeine. As I was about to step through the doors I heard someone shout in my direction. Something about “your car.” When I turned, I saw my nearly thirty-year-old Jeep Wrangler slow-rolling backward. Somehow, in my stunted haze, I’d forgotten to set the parking brake.

I launched out of my flip flops, leaving them at the threshold of the convenience store, and hauled my fat ass across the parking lot. The Jeep, though gaining speed and dead reckoning into a busy boulevard, managed to swerve slightly and strike a street sign. As the post was flattened, it retarded rearward progress just enough for me to leap inside the slam on the brakes.

“Nice save!” called out a bearded dude who’d stopped in the parking lot to have a smoke.

“Think it was the sign that made the save,” I said, climbing behind the wheel before driving the four-wheeler from the precipice of the curb.

I believe that qualifies as a whoops.

Though witnesses encouraged me to leave the sign as is for the city to fix, I was able to bend and leverage it back into place. So no actual harm done to anything more than my joie de vivre.

Suffice it to say, in my last few days of working on this phase of the book, my beloved War Department has volunteered to handle carpool.

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