barring any unforeseen complications, Love You to Death: The Unofficial Companion to The Vampire Diaries is off to the printer tomorrow! Finished, done, dunzo, finito. There’s a cover. There are pages full of text. There’s a photo section made gorgeous by the TVD cast. It’s a proper book. I’m pretty excited, as you can imagine, to be done and there’s a weight that I wasn’t entirely aware of for the past 8 months now lifted.
while I was writing the episode guide, i kept thinking about writing a blog post on “the rules” that i followed in order to get done what needed doin’ (i.e., write a book in a relatively brief amount of time). Mostly as a reference for me, should I ever get the chance to write another book, but perhaps there are interested parties among you, my blog visitors. let’s see what I can remember…
1. make a plan. then don’t follow it.
this was true of papers I wrote in high school and university, and it’s certainly true of my two books — I find mapping out a plan of attack hugely helpful. Gives you purpose. A place to start. You can see what lies ahead of you. I draft the table of contents (the easy part) and then map out the sections I’ll include in each episode’s guide (the harder part). This is where the “don’t follow it” part comes in. After I get deep into the re-watching and analyzing of the show, or get into the research, sections of the guide that I thought would be interesting and full may turn out to be lamesauce and obvious. And other sections will reveal themselves. This is also true of the sidebar chapters I include — what was interesting as a sidebar idea at the beginning (or what worked in my Gossip Girl book or another show’s episode guide) won’t necessarily translate when I really get into it, and it ends up on the cutting room floor. (Which in this case means a crumpled post-it note on my bedroom floor.)
2. it’ll take longer than you think
doesn’t everything? in addition to creating a Plan of Attack, I make a Schedule. then another one. and another. (I really should have kept ALL the different schedules I’ve made for myself over the course of writing this book. Pretty comical.) I tend to set a pretty impossible-to-achieve schedule for myself, so I constantly feel like I better keep working to keep up the pace. The great thing (also: an annoying thing when you just want to relax) about a writing an episode guide is there’s always something you can work on. If my brain can’t handle the analytical stuff, there’s minor no-brainer details to put together or supplementary material to watch/read (like the movies that inspire some of the Vampire Diaries episode titles).
3. get something on the page. anything. you can make it sparkle later.
I have to remind myself of this pretty much every hour that I’m writing: don’t worry about phrasing, sentence structure, grammar, spelling, word repetition, using tired old cliches — not yet. The first draft can be (and almost always is) horrible to read. Embarrassing even. At times baffling. (“I know the there/their/they’re rule! Where the heck was my brain!”) But if you get the ideas down, you’re gold. You can then clarify those thoughts, fix up the errors, and polish the writing til it sparkles.
4. get a comfortable chair.
I am a total and utter FAIL in this department. I have now written two books sitting in a $20 wooden IKEA chair. Seriously. There it is, to the left. The picture of comfort. You can imagine how it felt to sit in from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., days on end. (Because I’m working a full-time job at the same time I write, my books are mostly written on my holiday time, as well as evenings and weekends. That means intense, concentrated sessions of book-writing in 4, 5, or 7-day blocks.) In fact, as I write this very post, I am sitting in that chair. No one to blame but myself: after writing Spotted, I swore to myself I would be heading straight over to Staples and buying a real desk chair. And I never did. Maybe I have some subconscious desire to make my life more difficult than it has to be as punishment for past sins? The chair is, after all, named STEFAN.
5. take breaks. go outside. your brain is still secretly working on the book.
This is probably the thing that delights me most: there’s a section that is stumping me. For some reason or another, I just can’t write it. So I leave it. I take a break. Walk to the store for yellow Vitamin Water (seriously good stuff). Have a nap. Sprawl on the couch and watch some tv show with a zero vampire count. Even as I actively think about other things, there’s a little secret subconscious part of my brain that’s figuring out the problem. And 9 times out of 10, a little space from the annoying bit I just can’t write allows me to figure out the solution. When I did those math competitions in grade school and high school, the math teacher coaching our team would always say the same thing: if you come to a problem you can’t solve, move on. Work on the next one and come back to the tough one at the end. Part of that strategy was to finish as many problems as possible since it was a timed competition, but the logic holds in pretty much any other scenario: you keep working, you keep your confidence up and not worry about the bit you can’t do right now — when you come back to it, it’ll be easier to solve.
6. love what you’re doing
This should be up there as #1. I can’t imagine what an impossible slog this would have been if I didn’t love what I was doing. Sure, some days I wanted to hang out with my friends, or see my family, read a book, go to the movies, or do anything at all other than sit in the Stefan chair. But when I was working — researching, re-watching episodes, writing, editing, or re-writing — I was pretty darn happy. What’s better than getting really deeply into a subject you’re fascinated by, thinking hard about it, seeing connections and parallels and patterns, and then trying to express those ideas to other similarly obsessed fans? And the most exciting part is still to come (and soon!): when the book is in the hands of readers.
On that lovey-dovey note, I’ll leave ya. Now that the book is off my plate, I’m planning to get back to a more regular posting schedule here at the Tribune. Stay tuned for posts on my summer reading list, more on Pretty Little Liars, and who knows what else!