Writing time management, researching female serial killersPosted: November 21, 2011
I’m not doing a great deal of work outside of VG247 at the moment, so I’ve been forced to go back to the “30-minute rule”.
I inflicted this on myself when I was writing the Ooning. It’s simple: you work for a minimum of 30 minutes a day on your writing project. I’m a chronic procrastinator, so weeks and months can drift passed with no progress unless I impose some daily regulation. Half an hour is enough to write at least 500 words once planning’s complete, and it quickly tallies up if you’re focused enough to stick to the plan.
I never am, of course. The fail-safe is “the grid”. This is a calendar I stick on the wall next to my computer. Every day that passes gets struck out diagonally; if the 500 words are written, the other diagonal’s drawn to form a cross. If I get behind – this isn’t always my fault; if I travel, or inadvertently spawn three children, or whatever else, sometimes I can’t do the work – then I end up with a bunch of half-cross dates I have to make up with 1,000-word days and weekend pushing. If I write 300 words in half an hour, then I stop. If I’m feeling good about it, I write more. Some days I can’t stop. Some days I can barely start.
It’s sad I have to trick myself with such a stupid system instead of just doing the writing, but, as any flump will tell you, the greatest enemy of production is inertia. The first few words, my brain believes, are the hardest. The 30-minute rule makes me start; you can’t continue unless you begin.
I need to get back to daily writing because I’ve got two projects on the go and I’m determined to get them done. The first is a continuation. The Chair drew a fair amount of attention thanks, I assume, to its level of violence. My mother read it and called me a “nasty boy”. The idea was never to shock with that piece, but to explore what is, in fact, a relatively common scenario for male serial killers. Around half of all serial killing by men is sexually motivated, and some perpetrators find it impossible to achieve gratification unless they commit certain acts. The man in the story was doing what he felt compelled to do.
That’s not to say these crimes are defensible, obviously, and it seemed to me that some found it uncomfortable to read because it portrayed violence against a woman. I was talking about it with Brenna, VG247’s resident Australian, and she suggested I might look at writing something similar from a female perspective, with a woman as the murderer.
I started researching this a few weeks ago. Female serial killers are rare, and their modi operandi, in general, revolve around poisoning. When we think of serial killers in the main, we tend to summon images of men because their acts can be gruesome, rage-filled events involving rape and butchery; the majority of female serial killers murder for profit, and tend to kill in either the home or in specific, indoor locations such as hospitals or nursing facilities.
The term “serial killer” is actually not especially accurate for most women guilty of multiple murders. Very few female serial murderers kill in the sadistic or sexually-motivated ways associated with their male counterparts, but rather choose relatives or other people they know well as victims in domestic situations. Probably the two most famous types of female serial killers are the “Black Widow” – a woman that secures husbands specifically to kill them for profit – and the nurse.
The idea of a woman murdering people in her care or trust with theoretically undetectable methods such as poison and suffocation has a disquieting element missing from the man hunting strangers on the street. The female serial killer is no less psychopathic than her male equivalent, but her usual methods may mean she’s able to maintain a facade of normality, and avoid detection, for far greater time periods. She’s also able to kill in situations where other people can be very close by, potentially even in the same room, injecting drugs into drips in hospitals or smothering old people on night shifts. There’s no sound, and people die in hospitals and care homes. If there are no suspicious circumstances, why perform an autopsy?
I’ll start writing soon. The plan’s there, but I still have some stuff to do. I’m a visual writer, in that it helps me a great deal to physically see things and record detail, and I tend to find inspiration in experience. Walking in the woods helps me write about woods. Watching the sea helps me write about the sea. Some people can gloss over smells and colour, but without experience I can find it difficult to describe. There are some locations I need to visit before I get going.
The other project, obviously, is the Ooning. I have to be honest; I’m a little concerned about releasing it at all. It was written a long time ago and it feels naive. Maybe there’s an endearing quality to that, but it may just be bad. I’m going to make the rewrites and finish the final edit and I’ll see where it stands.
All of this adds up to a fair amount of work. Nothing half an hour a day won’t cure, I’m sure.