Getting Done

I almost choked on my own tongue laughing when, in the movie Sliding Doors, the good for nothing boyfriend says “I’m a novelist.  I’ll never be done.”  It was a hyena laugh second only to the one that erupted both from me and my – at the time – critique partner, when the main character tells her boyfriend “I know when you finish your novel we’ll be fabulously wealthy.”  That one was louder because we realized no one else around us was laughing and this made us laugh all the louder, until we were helpless in our seats.

Both of these misconceptions are rife in society, about what writers are and what they do.  And both of them will kill your writing career abirthing, if you let them.

We’ll take the second one first – if you’re going for traditional publication, can you become rich beyond the dreams of avarice.  Well – Sarah demurs – it’s possible.  I mean, there’s a chance.  It worked for Rowling.  And Brown.  And King and a half a dozen others.  It’s about as possible as you becoming incredibly wealthy if you buy a lottery ticket.  I wouldn’t count on it.  Let’s put it this way, no one will give you a loan of ten million because you bought a lottery ticket.  And no one sane will give it because you finished a novel.  It’s more likely that you’ll make some money and will have to keep writing to make more.

BUT Sarah, you say, what about Indie?  Surely I can put a novel up there and just watch the money pour in while I contemplate plans for a new house, so I can put the new money in it?  Well… It could happen.  I mean, one hears stories.  Not just Hocking, either.  BUT even though your odds are better, at least if you can write your way out of a wet paper bag, it’s still a lottery.  Chances are, even if that ends up happening, you’ll start slow, by making a few hundred here, and a few hundred there.   The thing is, over time?  Yeah, if you keep writing, you could make a living.  And if you’re both good and fast, you could make a good living.  Just don’t go in expecting miracles.  It’s more of a meritocracy and it gives you more control.  That’s all.

As for the second myth…  Well…  There is a tendency to think that if you take longer to write a book, it will be better.  We’ve gone before into the astonishing number of writers who were good and amazingly fast.  But beyond that, you have to ask yourself – how can it be better to take a long, long time? What else is made better by taking as long as possible?  Okay, maybe cooking soup, but even that spoils if you keep it on the boiler for a month or so (Yes, yes, I’ve heard the jokes about inheriting a soup base.  I’m fairly sure they’re just jokes.)

You shouldn’t RUSH a story – particularly one that isn’t jelling (no, not even when writing fast) – but you shouldn’t coddle it excessively long, either.  Look, the thing is, your readers are going to read the book over a limited period of time.  If you take too long, your experience loses sight of theirs.  You’ll only have more trouble telling the story for THEM.  It will be hard to figure out how they’ll face things.  Also, if you take to long your VISION of the story will change.  You’ll start out (metaphorically) by sculpting a faun and end up thinking you’re doing a mermaid, and the book will be… neither fish nor fowl nor yet good red meat.

But you said you shouldn’t RUSH a story?  How can I ever know if I’m done?
Well… if you’re rushing the story, the symptoms are fairly obvious.  You’ll feel like you’re not getting it quite right, and it will be sheer torment.  It’s rather like an impacted tooth or a painful knee.  You can’t ignore it, but you also can’t finish it, yet.  There are things that help in this situation, which include taking a day away, taking a shower (no one knows why the shower helps, but it seems that anything with tons of water helps.  Like taking a walk by a body of water if you live near one.  Something about ionization), taking a walk.  But then you have to come back and try again.

But what if I keep having new and better ideas, and can never finish anything?

That’s actually an ego-protection device.  See, when you start writing a story it’s much bigger than anything you can put on paper, or even on pixels.  There’s an entire world in your head and centuries of history, right?  Right.  And that is never going to fit in a single story, particularly if it’s a short or a novella.  So about halfway through you realize that.  And then your ego realizes it’s never going to be as good as you thought it was going to be and – to protect itself – throws a new and dazzling idea at you.

Remember yesterday’s post?  Stop that.  Write your story first.  Make yourself finish it.  It doesn’t have to be good, but it does have to be finished.  Chances are that if it’s finished you’ll find it’s not bad after all.  And each story you finish gives you more practice. You get a little better every time.

Writer, heal thyself.  Aren’t you the woman afflicted by popcorn kitten-like ideas, jumping whichever way?

Well, yes. (Though it’s rude of you to bring it up.)  The thing is that part of this is the straddling of worlds, between traditional and indie, and particularly the changing of courses.  (Since when I signed these particular contracts, I didn’t know indie was an option.)  In future I hope to be doing even traditional on spec, which means I can concentrate on one project at a time, without deadlines intruding.

The other part of this is that it’s perfectly acceptable to do different projects at different times.  For instance I find that long after my mind is “blown” for fresh writing, I can still edit.  And after my mind is to tired for either, I can research.  So my ideal day might include writing a few chapters in the morning, revising the last book I finished (Never the same.  Never revise while writing) in the afternoon, then reading a “general ambience” research in the afternoon.  (Say the book is set in Tudor England I might read about the history of the time, or one of those “daily life in.”  For specific detail research I need to be able to focus, so that type of situation doesn’t work.)  But I’ll explain how to optimize research for speed tomorrow.

For now, go forth and finish something.

Unrelated update:  Amanda Green’s excellent Nocturnal Origins (with cover by yours truly!) is free on Amazon today.  Go and bump it up the ranks:

7 thoughts on “Getting Done

  1. There’s this sharp stick poking into me–or is it a pointy-toed shoe? FYI, I spent this morning’s writing session chanting “words can be fixed” whenever I slowed down and started noticing the bland, banal bilge I was writing.

  2. Yeth, Mather.

    Just finished (1) A first draft (2) A polish (not french) on another that’s headed for the Kindle store in a few days.

    Now I get to start NEW STUFF!!!!!!!! Err, and editing and polishing old stuff, but the New Idea can stop with the flashing lights.

  3. Actually just sent off a short story of mine and a friend’s character’s to make her feel better. So, since I finished something, does that mean I get to procrastinate kill time keeping up on the epub world before my family goes to bed and I can focus on writing? 😀

    I’ve actually been reading other works in the field lately, when I’m too tired to write, too frustrated to edit, and not tired enough to go to bed. It’s instructive to see what’s out there and enlightening to know a little more about the quality of some of the venues I’m intending on selling in.

    It’s made me decide that when I get bogged down on my novel, I need to stop berating myself into working on that when I can work on short stories that I can plausibly get up and published before the novel. I’m not arguing with your post, mind. More agreeing that saying, “It’s too hard, I’m going to play with this shiny new idea.” is bad… though I’m giving myself an exception if it’s a short story. (I am, however, keeping a file on ideas that crop up and all my initial thoughts on them and if they have any hint of likely being over 10k words, I’m making myself shelve them.)

    Tonight, though, I want to work on my novel. I’m getting through the part I wasn’t sure how to write and on the threshold of The Fun Stuff.

    (Of course, you may still disagree with me allowing myself short stories, but I have this thing about procrastinating on things I feel guilty about, even though that makes things worse. I blame that on the block I was suffering a week or so ago – I was trying to force myself to only work on the novel, so when I wanted to even write down ideas that came up, I’d feel guilty about it being words during my writing time that weren’t going to the novel, so I ended up freezing up. During that trip I mentioned in your post awhile back about your burned writing channels, I actually ended up skiing rather than writing, but I did manage to get down a few pages of a short story on the ride home again – inspired by the snowstorm we had while on top of the mountain and the skiing itself. When I got home, I was happy to get back to work on the novel and haven’t actually even typed up what I wrote by hand on the short story.)

    ((Also, also – I’m afraid to say that today in his Tumblr blog, Neil Gaiman admitted to working on several projects at once. I know I’m not in NG’s class of writers, but it made me feel less guilty about working on shorts when the novel gave me headaches. I do, however, think that everyone should try your method of pushing through first and/or concurrently as I plan to. Especially if their shiny new idea is something that’s going to take awhile to write. Because I agree entirely that there is an expiration date on your work. If you leave it too long, the best you can do is hold your nose, toss it out, and start completely over.))

    Now that I’ve flooded you with words (can you tell that my fingers are eager to get to work tonight?) – I’ll run off and hope I haven’t caused offense.

    1. No, what you do with shorts is what I do — if I block on a novel, I might write three or four shorts, then come back to the novel.

      Will answer rest tomorrow when I’m not a sleep-walking zombie who ONLY logged on to put up tomorrow’s post. 😉

  4. Thanks for this, Sarah. I’ve been in a procrastination slump lately, which I’m pretty sure is also an ego-protection device. I think I unconsciously think that if I never finish the book, no one can ever tell me it sucks (including me). For one, I have to step away from Library Thing and Goodreads, where people regularly tell me I suck, or that the idea was great but I mutilated it, and I could have NOT sucked if I had tried just a little harder, etc. etc. Unfortunately, I can’t just warp ahead ten years to the point that my hide is thick enough and my skills developed enough to plow ahead without fear, so right now I’m just going to have to STOP IT. ‘Cause I can’t live in this little buried box forever.

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