Hurry Up and Wait: Pacing Yourself and Your Story
Guest blogger Hope Tarr is the award-winning author of more than 20 contemporary and historical romance novels including Operation Cinderella, the launch to her Suddenly Cinderella series for Entangled Publishing and Sugar, a contemporary erotic romance co-authored with Jenna Jameson (Skyhorse, October 2013). She is also a cofounder and current principal of Lady Jane’s Salon™, New York City’s first and still only monthly romance fiction reading series now in its fifth year with six satellite salons nationwide. Visit Hope online at www.HopeTarr.com, www.LadyJaneSalonNYC.com, www.Facebook.com/HopeC.Tarr and on Twitter @HopeTarr.
I’d hoped to begin this guest post with big news as in B-I-G news. At least that was my plan. But alas my B-I-G news is still parked in the contract negotiations that are part and parcel of any legally binding agreement. While I’m disappointed that my B-I-G news isn’t happening on my schedule, or yours, I’m also appreciative of the care and thoroughness being taken by all vested parties in sussing out the terms, rights, and responsibilities.
But then writing for publication is a “hurry up and wait” business and likely always will be. Be it a novel or a screenplay, or a transformation of your story from one medium to the other, writing is a marathon, not a sprint. In a sprint you can go for the proverbial gusto. You can race hell for leather. You can wear yourself out. You have that luxury—the luxury of being useless for some period of time afterward.
But in a marathon, most of us have got to pace ourselves. We’ve got to be tortoises, not hares. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it will see us through to finishing it. And really, isn’t that what winning is?
As one who’s completed three marathons and more than 20 published novels, the latter over a period of 13 years, I can say with confidence, even certainty, that winning this publishing race distills to one absolutely essential skill: pacing.
Like successful marathoners, writers in for the long haul know how to pace ourselves. We know how to endure. We know when to pull back and when to leap forward. We may not like it, we often don’t like it, but we know—and then discipline ourselves accordingly. Not because we are saints or in any way passionless about outcomes, but because we understand that success isn’t a matter of one book or one screenplay or any one project. It’s about a career. For every “overnight success,” there are scores of us approaching the finish line at a long, slow crawl—with the publishing equivalent of skinned knees and aching backs—and a reserve of raw talent and steely determination sufficient to fuel a freakin’ moon rocket.
And still sometimes even the most seasoned among us falter, even fail. As in Real Life, in fiction there are temptations to skip a step or cut a corner. I admit I am a not infrequent offender. Taken together, “The” and “End” have got to be the two most tantalizing words in the English language. Once I launch into a book, I can’t wait to get there. Writing connecting scenes, back story that flushes out character, or more or less anything that happens in the middle of a book flat out bores me. It just does. Far more fun to simply spring forward, leapfrog over the ubiquitous Dark Night of the Soul AKA Black Moment, and have my hero/heroine rush in… and be transformed!
But like Real Life, good fiction rarely if ever works that way. Typing “The End” is easy. Doing so and feeling good about it is work. It has to be earned. That’s where Blake’s Beat Sheet comes in. Whether you’re writing a screenplay or another form of fiction, those 15 beats form a quintessential template for pacing your story. Rushing through or skipping any one step may save you some time in the short run—but in the long run it will cost you your story.
So by all means, let us save the cat. And once we have kitty back in arms, let us move forward with unfolding our story, step-by-step, beat-by-beat. That’s our job as writers, as entertainers, and as creators. In the interim…
Prepare to hurry up—and wait. I have a feeling it’s going to be a while.
Check out our other novel-writing blog posts.