Saturday, January 27, 2007

Today's Guest: Darlene Ryan

Writing with a Conscience Named Judy

I started a new project last week. Whenever I start something new, it’s about two weeks before I stop making myself crazy. It takes that long for me to decide if I like the story, if I've done enough work on the outline, if I like the characters, if I can spend the next few months of my life in this world with these people, if I can really write an entire book, if I can, in truth, actually write anything more complicated than a grocery list.

After about two weeks I settle in and find the rhythm of the story. That usually takes me all the way through the first draft. I don't get that crazy again until it's time to start rewrites. What keeps me going through those first two weeks is making my word count. Every day I make myself write something. Sometimes it's brilliant. Sometimes it's dreck. Sometimes--okay, lots of times--I can't always tell the difference. But by the end of the week, I have to make my word count. That weekly goal is written in stone.

No bowl of popcorn and every incarnation of Law & Order on Saturday night if I don't meet my word count. No football on Sunday afternoon. I have a word count to meet, and I have a conscience. My conscience is named Judy.

Every Monday morning I e-mail Judy my previous week’s totals, but I usually check in throughout the week as well. Last Tuesday I wrote more than I'd expected. When I e-mailed her with the good news her response was, “Nice. Why are you e-mailing me? Shouldn't you be writing?” Thursday I was way behind. I made the mistake of telling her that and “Ping” a new e-mail was in my Inbox. "So why are playing with your email?” she asked. “Go write something.” Friday it was snowing. I tried to convince her I needed to shovel, build a snow fort, maybe a snowman. "Don't make me come up there," her message read.

I know what you're thinking. How can a middle aged woman who's not even 5'5" tall keep me accountable? So what if I don't make my weekly word count? She's an hour and a half away. Can't I just ignore her? Well, no. You see, Judy's one of my oldest friends. One of the few people who calls me by my nickname. She's known me since high school. She knows all my secrets. Okay, I don't have a lot of secrets, but the ones I have she knows.

That picture in our high school yearbook? The one with the guy and the girl thisclosetogether and his hands are there, and her hands are sort of here, and you can't see their faces but everyone pretty much knew who he was because he was, well, yummy, but even now almost nobody knows who she is/was except of course for the girl herself, and well, Judy.

Judy knows everything. Yeah, I know her secrets. I know the first time she got a hit playing baseball in gym class she ran the bases the wrong way. I know she told the Latin teacher that “Sic transit est Gloria mundi” stood for “City transit is glorious on Monday.” It’s not quite the same thing. Judy knows about the time Rob Fowler's mouth had two tongues and mine didn't have any. She has pictures of me in platform shoes and gaucho pants. I don't exactly know what she'd do if I didn't make my weekly word count. And I don't really want to find out.

Judy knows where all the bodies are buried, figuratively, not literally, though if there were any real bodies buried she'd know how to find them because she’d have been there, right beside me, wielding a shovel. You see, Judy's more than the voice of my conscience. She's also my number one cheerleader. She tells everyone about my books. She cheers when I make a sale. She’ll eat sympathy cheesies when I’m down and celebration cheesies when I’m up. She lets me whine for at least a day or two when I get rejected. Then she says, “Cheer up, little buckaroo. And get your ass back to the computer.”

Ultimately, a writer doesn't need a state-of-the-art computer, an ergonomic chair or even a room of her own. What every writer needs is a Judy.

Darlene Ryan is the author of Saving Grace, Rules for Life, and A Mother's Adoption Journey.


Lonnie Cruse said...


I've just found my own "Judy." Her name is Suzanne and she does the same thing for me. It keeps nose to grindstone...where it belongs. Great blog post, thanks!

Lorraine Bartlett said...

Great post, Darlene! Ever think of blogging???

Anonymous said...

A great discussion of the writing process and the discipline it takes to finish a book. Makes me want to look up my old friend who knows all the secrets.

Carol said...

Wonderful, blog; wonderful idea. Tell Judy to sign me up -- I'll tell her all the secrets of my misspent youth.


Sandra Parshall said...

Darlene, does Judy freelance when you're not keeping her busy?

BTW, everyone, Darlene is going to be blogging for us as often as she wants to.

Pauline B Jones said...

LOL! Great blog!

Darlene Ryan said...

Sandy, I'm not sure if Jude is available to freelance, but her weakness is cheesies.

Anonymous said...

Only two weeks to find the rhythm of the story? I'm am pea-green jealous. It takes me much longer.

Anonymous said...

OK you guys!! This is Judy the Conscience! Get back to work and stop talking about me...wonderful as I am! LOL!!

How's that? Conscience enough for you?

The Jude

Lonnie Cruse said...


Thanks for checking in! Hope you will stick around.

Buttercake56 said...

Sandra - Wonderful comments on our beloved Tai and other pandas. It is funny how you can so completley lose all sanity over a squealing blind, bold baby that looks like a rat. Buttercake56
PS Loved the book, looking forward to another one