There is a part of being a writer that readers really have no clue about – can’t have, unless they walk in our shoes and are also writers. I had no idea myself.
I’m excluding from that being-a-writer experience the literary darlings who are encouraged/pushed to write only when the mood strikes or when they are so inclined, and those writers who are already so established that nothing can dent their popularity. J.K. Rowling could be filmed boiling kittens, and yet her next book relating to the Potter universe would still sell like crazy. (It remains to be seen how her foray into adult mystery does.)
What I’m talking about is the intersection between the business and the art, the “I write because I’m inspired/want to” and “I write because I’m under contract.”
Writing involves a certain amount of artistic “flopping about.” It can’t be avoided, even by people like me who hate the idea that there’s something about this process they can’t control. There is what I call “negotiating with the subconscious” to get anything written. (The problem being if you don’t comply with its often unvoiced demands, the subconscious takes your book hostage, and simply won’t let you write. Possibly my worst block is sitting in front of the computer, in theory knowing what I should be writing, and unable to.) I was very relieved to find that Heinlein himself would spend days moaning on the sofa that he would never be able to write again. It makes my bouts of mad house cleaning, cat brushing and crying seem mild by comparison.
The problem of course is that the other end of the writing business has no leeway whatsoever for artistic flopping about. If you are a publisher – and this applies too if you are your own publisher, btw – you need to keep up a certain schedule. This is a lot more important for the traditional publishers, who have schedules published in advance, cover contracts, and distributors who need to know what’s coming. In other words, there’s money invested in your delivering when expected.
Now, because publishers know that writers are creatures of inequity, they tend to pad your schedule by at least six months and sometimes a year.
Which is a problem if you find yourself doing what I’ve been doing lately.
By lately it’s a problem that’s been slowly creeping to “worse” over the last ten years. I can tell you the exact date, actually. Until we moved to this house, I’d never missed a deadline be it for short story or novel. Since I moved to this house, I can’t seem to hit one, and the lag times have got downright bizarre.
Now, there are multiple explanations.
If you’re a believer in whoo hoo atmosphere and psychic influences, I can tell you this house seems to have a “pall” over it, a blanket of “do nothing.” My family, which tends not to believe in such things, took a while to confess to the others what we were feeling. We all found work arounds, mostly centered on working elsewhere. Even a noisy coffee shop is better than in the house.
Of course, this might have a physical explanation, too. We found out recently one of our filters has been growing mildew because no one told us we needed to change it. But that explanation seems insufficient, since that filter has only been present for about seven years.
Perhaps there is some natural force, as yet unnamed that is responsible for this. Perhaps it is a quality of the light, or the way the house sits. Who knows? I know getting creative work done here feels like walking uphill.
It’s perfectly fine for non-creative, sit-down-and-get-the-ducks-in-a-row work. It’s just trying to write fiction that stops me.
But there are other factors. One of them is very good. Since I moved to this house I’ve published more. This means that I often had six books due a year…
And that’s bad. Because if you fall behind a deadline, it’s going to snowball larger and larger as it goes.
And the other factor is illnesses. This honestly probably has nothing to do with the house, just with the fact I’m now over forty. As someone born severely premature, who always had auto-immune issues, I knew it would catch up with me in later years. I was hoping that meant “after sixty” but apparently mostly – for most people in the same situation – it means “after forty.” This, combined with having kids in public school and/or attending cons has cost me about half of every year, which in turn compresses my writing time.
The problem is that the publisher still needs to keep its schedule, something I completely understand. And that I’m having trouble keeping mine.
We won’t even go into the bizarre mind twist that had me write an extra space opera while Noah’s boy – under contract – waited doing. That falls under “art will have its day.”
No, my publisher isn’t threatening me. But I also know I can’t continue doing this to them and continue working. So, as I get floored by sickness for the third time while working on Noah’s Boy, I feel like I am letting the publisher down, which isn’t helping.
And no, this isn’t just a general purpose whining. While I’ve found there are books and stories that are “cursed” and therefore take forever to finish, I’ve also found that if those get finished, they’re often the ones that do best. Yes, it’s a writing superstition. Deal. We’re worse than actors for those.
So – even though the crud has re-crudesced and my head feels like it’s going to burst at the sinus, I’m sitting down and working on Noah’s Boy.
Because I have promises to keep – and pages to go before I sleep.
In the end, my readers probably won’t care if I wrote through a sinus headache (it’s amazing and a little deflating how that can be some of my best work.) But they’ll mind if the books stop.
And so I work.