A storm is brewing in my social media feed as I watch Kelly, a friend, disintegrate over a breakup. I create a post of my own, announcing to the world I am procrastinating. While scrolling through more feeds, I notice I am overdue for a manicure. I’m supposed to be working on my fiction novel, but am doing everything except writing.
I remember seeing a pair of shoes a woman at the gym was wearing and decide to treat myself to a pair of my own. I’m sitting on the sofa, tying what’s left of my tattered shoelaces when my phone erupts into melody. It’s a woman from my writing group. We agreed to hold each other accountable for our writing.
“Hi, Kathryn,” she says flatly. “How’s it going?”
Oh. I wonder if she saw my social media post. “I’ve hit a wall,” I admit.
Silence. Disappointment, maybe. Tacit chastising, perhaps. She knows I’m struggling to figure out scenes to advance the story arc. It’s where our last conversation ended.
“That’s okay. It happens. You just need to figure out how to get past it.”
“I know. But how?”
“What do your readers want to happen?”
We talk about my reader profile and work to define the ultra-core group for my genre before clicking off. A few minutes later, I receive an email of a gender-neutral avatar Cindy created, representing my reader. I print it and neatly trim it to fit a frame that holds a picture of the dog currently sleeping under my desk.
I meet my reader, whom I name Pat/Patricia/Patrick, before placing the frame next to my newly poured tea. As the steam curls off the top of the cup, I watch it shroud the framed avatar in mystery. I get to know my reader in my own creative way, manufacturing their occupation, inventing their hobbies, and determining what they watch on television. Enough details to anticipate what they/she/he might want for my main character.
I start writing, and the alphabet feels like it is coursing through my veins until it spills out of my fingertips and dances across the keyboard. I watch my screen fill as letters form words and words form paragraphs before settling into chapters.
When I contemplate scenes, dialogue, or word usage, I discuss options with Pat/Patricia/Patrick. It’s not that I expect the avatar to respond, but verbalizing this is an enormous help. I listen to myself, which makes it easier to identify how a reader might want the story to advance.
I explain to Pat/Patricia/Patrick that I’ll be running to the kitchen to grab chips and a soda and that I will be right back. It’s not that I expect the avatar to hold me accountable if my break bleeds into the next day, but I’m making a commitment out loud. One that I honor because I owe it to my future reader.
Three empty soda cans and a bowl of stale chips later, my fingers are still feverishly flying across the keyboard with exhilarating momentum. I know most of it will be edited out of the first draft, but that’s not important to me at the moment. What is important is that I’m writing for Pat/Patricia/Patrick.
The melodic ringtone of my phone breaks my concentration, and I am annoyed. It’s Kelly, so I answer because I am a good friend. Or at least I’d like to think I am. She wants to grab a pizza for dinner, and I realize I’ve been writing for the last ten hours.
“Sorry, Kelly, but I can’t tonight. I’m having dinner with Pat/Patricia/Patrick.”
Kathryn Caraway is a writer who has spearheaded the Unfollow Me project for victims of stalking. You can read more about it at www.KathrynCaraway.com or www.unfollowme.com. Follow her on social media:
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