This whole week I’ve struggled with Act 2 of my novel: namely the series of events that build up toward the midpoint catastrophe and subsequently carries the plot along to Act 3. It didn’t help that our house was under significant repair, with little space for me to work except for the narrow passageways that the workers had left between the big containment units they had set up.
Yet this morning, after my wife left early for church rehearsal, I managed to sneak in 1.5 hours of work in which I was able to plan out the entire buildup to the midpoint, as well as all the events that lead to Act 3. It still needs some fleshing out, but it’s also really solid.
How was it that I managed to do in 1.5 hours what I couldn’t accomplish in an entire week?
A few factors. First, the repairs are all done, and my workspace/living space have both been restored to a place of stability. Second, I was working in the morning, rather than the afternoon, when my energy is still with me. Third, I was alone in a quiet space with little distraction. Finally, from a method standpoint, I printed out the page and read it through thoroughly from Act 1, stopping to linger on what I had written and make notes by hand.
This all demonstrates the nature of the Pareto Principle, which states that often 20% of the work yields 80% of the results. And based on today’s experience, the 20% of success novel-planning work has the following characteristics:
- It’s done in a stable and focused place
- It’s done early in the morning when I’m still fresh
- There are very few other people around to distract me
- I’m able to consider the work as a whole (printing out the entire outline)
- There’s a method in place which forces me to stop and linger on the work, rather than rushing ahead (making notes by hand on the paper, especially boxing out the specific ways each scene advances the plot)
I imagine for the actual drafting process, there will be a different set of factors to achieve Pareto efficiency, but the lessons I learned here should be able to tide me over for the next week or so.