Fantastifiers: the clever name we gave to our clever, clever writing group; my favorite part of any fortnight. I’ll break it down for you.
There are six of us, all working on novels. We meet every two weeks, submitting chapters in alternating groups of three, which means that every month I’m expected to produce a new chapter for workshopping. Call it a fire under my ass, a gun to my head, all the good stuff. Chapter 4 is being workshopped tonight, and back home I’m poking at chapter 6.
Oh! And we bring snacks. But that’s not the point.
I’ve been working on this novel for about nine months, and I have about six chapters completed and ready to go. In a subsequent post I’ll talk more about the book and my plans for it, but for now, the umbrella skinny; the nutshell.
Left to my own devices, I would put a pin in chapter six. I have ideas for how to fix the earlier chapters of the novel, some which require some pretty heavy lifting, and if I weren’t being policed by the Fantastifiers I could easily spend the balance of this year jiggering and re-jiggering chapter one and two (edits to make: less sex; more piano). But that’s the trap a lot of writers fall into, especially when they’re faced with what one of my writing instructors calls the “big, baggy middle;” that act 2 specter that looms large and empty and waiting for plot and characterization to fill it up. The hard stuff. The good stuff.
And it would be easy for me to forego moving forward, in favor of fixing the early chapters. I can hear the justifications in my head already: “but, but, I won’t have all the information for the middle if I don’t delete the sex and add the piano to the early chapters!” Between you and me, that’s a big lie. I can hold the sex and piano in my head; I can forge on forward as if I’d fixed the early chapters; I can confront the Middle.
But what I’m saying is, I wouldn’t. Without the Fantastifiers fire I’d be mired in chapter one, tweaking and polishing and changing my mind over and over again. But I know that the important thing for me at this stage of the book is to lay plot pieces one after the other, to erect the scaffolding on which the novel will drape, so that when I do go back and edit, I’ll have infrastructure to work with. Another old writing instructor once told me that “a first draft is code for ‘place draft here.'” I liked that. The first draft is the bones, the flavorless writing and steel struts of architecture; later come the balustrades, gargoyles and stained glass.
Thanks, Fantastifiers. I’ve got chapter 5 ready for you, and by October, come hell or the Mayan apocalypse, I will have chapter six.