Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writing a Book the Mafia Wars Way by Kristy Kiernan

I've enjoyed reading about book signings this month. Everyone has their own take on them, everyone has their own reasons to do, or not do, them. Most of us have had a mortifying one or two, and have also had had the delightful one or two in which we sold out of books.

But I'm going to write about our alternate topic today, Your Writing Process, because I have a fairly singular view of book signings: I do them because there is no better way to thank the booksellers for what they do than to arrive on time, respectfully dressed, interact with their customers, and express my appreciation in person.

So, on to Your (My) Writing Process. This, too, is so individual, and I have all kinds of different processes for each stage of the book. Because I've gotten a fair amount of flak in the past couple of weeks over one of them, that's what I'm going to concentrate on in this post.

It has to do with...Facebook. Also known in some circles as The Most Evil Social Networking Site Ever Invented. Everyone seems to have strong feelings about Facebook. Despite the fact that I've been on it incessantly for the past several weeks, I don't. I can take it or leave it. Right now, I'm taking it. But I'm mostly using it for Mafia Wars.

Mafia Wars is a game application in which the player pushes buttons that say things like "Fight" and "Loot" and "Rob an Electronics Store." Depending upon how well you do those things, you're awarded various weapons, armor, prizes, cash, and titles, such as "Street Thug" and "Enforcer" and (my current title) "Consiglere."

It's silly. It's pointless. It takes little to no thought.

And that's why I'm playing it.

You see, I'm writing a new book.

This will be the seventh novel I've written. By the time you've written six full-length books, you begin to notice that you have certain routines you fall into on every book. And I have found that while trying to re-train myself to sit at the computer for long periods of time, I need something mindless and enjoyable. Because after the initial rush of getting my first scene down, I find that I am continuously distracted.

I want to do laundry. I have a sudden need to trim the orchids in the jasmine trees. The grout looks distressingly dingy. Coconut noodle soup at Thai Star calls to me. I will do anything rather than sit in front of that computer.

And if you want to write a book? You have to sit in front of the computer.* For long periods of time.

So, with each book I've had some little obsession that I use to keep me there. Some of my time wasters over the years?

  • Countless chatrooms and bulletin boards. Some were interesting, most were mindless chatter.
  • Solitaire.
  • Fiddling with website.
  • Minesweeper.
  • Free Cell.
  • Webkinz. (Yeah, that's right, Webkinz. You got something to say?)
  • Three Deck Spider Solitaire.
  • Four Deck Spider Solitaire.

And now: Mafia Wars.

I keep my skimpy manuscript open in one window, and my mindless entertainment of choice open in another, and if I get stuck on my writing, I do not move from in front of my computer to rearrange my storage containers. I sit there. I play my stupid games. I slowly ascend the levels, or rack up the points, or beat a previous time, and then I go back to my ms and stare at it for a while. I bounce back and forth, hours and hours go by, back and forth, back and forth.

And eventually, starting around the 6,500 to 8,000 word range, I find myself drawn to my ms more. The balance starts to shift. And somewhere around the 10,000 word mark, I find myself sitting there, WRITING, the entire time. Nothing calls to me but the story. Not the grout. Not the soup.** Not the game. I post a little farewell (as I did recently on Twitter), letting everyone know that I'm off the grid for a while, and I write my book.

But this time, with Mafia Wars, I'm getting a good amount of sass back from random corners of my world. And for a while I couldn't figure out why. Why is everyone bugging me about My Process? Why am I getting inquiries about why I'm robbing cab drivers in Cuba rather than writing? This is MY Process. What do you care?

Then I realized what the difference is. It's Facebook. Every move I make is broadcast. Nobody ever saw the insanity of Minesweeper. The bug-eyed concentration of Free Cell. The mind-numbing repetition of Webkinz. Those were all done in the privacy of my own little world. But with Facebook it's not even Mafia Wars that everyone is seeing. Even when I'm out of energy (in the game), health (uh, in the game), and stamina (in get the idea), I'm still ON Facebook, so I'm posting really fascinating*** status updates, and I'm replying to friends' really fascinating*** status updates. Suddenly, everyone can SEE, in up-close and disquieting detail, My Process.

And, apparently, some people don't approve.

So, here's what I have to say to them: It is, after all, MY process. Go enjoy YOUR process, and I will not bother you about it. I have written six full-length books in the past nine years. I can assure you, I'll do it again. And if you don't like my fascinating*** updates, make use of the "Hide" button and choose "Hide Kristy." If you don't like to see that I'm wishing for an Untraceable Cell Phone**** in Mafia Wars, then use the "Hide" button and choose "Hide Mafia Wars." If you just don't like me? Unfriend me.

Other than that, cut me some slack--I'm writing. It might not look like it to you, but it doesn't have to. Those books on the shelves didn't magically appear. I did actually produce them.

And I'm doing it again.

* No. Longhand won't work for me. If I wrote longhand I would just have to play tic tac toe, or sketch really bad profiles of women I don't know but who have perky noses and oddly swooping bangs. I actually have to sit in front of a computer.

** Okay, the soup always calls to me.

*** Fascinating is such a subjective term, isn't it?

**** Yeah, seriously, you got any extras?

Kristy Kiernan is the author of Catching Genius, Matters of Faith, and the upcoming Between Friends (April 2010). Feel free to friend her on Facebook and join her Mafia. You'll get a lot of writing done.


Cruella Collett said...

This was one of those posts where I was looking for the Facebook "like" button, but since it wasn't there, I decided it was worth a comment ;)
I know a lot about distractions and addictions, and it makes me really happy to hear that it is possibly to beat them (without giving them up).

This post made me the exact opposite of the word verification it wants (deppa is slang for 'depressed' in Norwegian).

JD Rhoades said...

Sending you an UCP :-)

I have a similar process. I get stuck, I surf, something that was in the back of my mind comes forward, I write some more. It would probably horrify most writing teachers, but go with what works. I've read your stuff...the process WORKS for you. So the rest of ya'll just back the hell offa Kristy.

JD Rhoades said...

PS I always just skip the MW "publish" option. Ain't nobody's business what I do.

Jenny said...

Wow, people need to back off!

And I so recommend Sorority Life! ;-)

Kristy Kiernan said...

Cruella, may I just say that I love your pic? This is exactly how I feel most days. And delighted that you enjoyed :-)

JD, You're the best Mafia buddy around (Tank)! And the only things I do hit publish for is my wishlist (and only once a day) and jobs, because, dang, you DO get a lot of exp points when those come through.

Jenny, my thoughts exactly. Though, really, they do mean well. They just think that I'm doing something differently than I have before. They didn't realize the big ball of crazy I've always been. ;-)

JD Rhoades said...

Crazy like a FOX! Hiyooooo!

larramiefg said...

Whatever works!

Kristy Kiernan said...

Exactly, Larramie!