And Miles To Go

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.


57 responses to “And Miles To Go

  1. It seems likely that the filter capture the initial mildew infection from stuff blowing through it, because, well, that’s what filters do. Have you considered having the ductwork cleaned? If you’ve got allergies and immune system issues, it might make sense to augment the filter system – maybe an electrostatic filter system would help?

    • I second that. I lived for decade and a half in an old apartment with occasional mildew, and had asthma, bouts of clinical depression (and the SAD was considerably worse too, even after I had started to figure out how to deal with it, than it’s now), was sick a lot more than I am now and didn’t get much done. After moving I have been steadily getting better, and the asthma is nearly gone too. I’m a big believer in the deleterious effects on health of mildew and mold, and if you find visible infestations there is always a good chance the place has that stuff growing also in some places where you can’t see it.

  2. In this time of blogs and writer-fan connection, we readers do indeed care if you suffer sinus headaches. But we cannot buy books which are not published.

    Knowing that Heinlein suffered massive migraine attacks and epileptic seizures while writing* it does not make Starship Troopers a more entertaining book, although knowing he was nearly dying from blood poisoning while writing I Will Fear No Evil does a great deal to excuse <I<that book.

    Because some people will blithely repeat anything read online as if it were fact, please note that I am being sarcastic and am not, repeat not claiming RAH did in fact suffer those maladies at that time.

    • RES — he was beginning to suffer the effects of a brain disease (can’t remember exactly what – maybe a tumor) when he wrote I Will Fear No Evil. I read an interview with RAH where he said that he wrote it as an exercise in what the stupidities of the 60’s and 70’s could lead to. Of course, MY memory is pretty faulty nowadays, so I can’t guarantee that. I can’t guarantee I can remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

      • Brain tumor. The number of SF authors who have suffered brain tumors is a little alarming. Particularly since these are the type of … “inspired writers” that Kate calls “gateway in head” Speaker to Lab Animals tells me it’s not out of the question that there is some sort of structure in the rains of such authors that’s not in others…

        Which makes me wonder if it makes them (us?) uniquely prone to brain cancer (otherwise very rare in the population.)

        Worries me a bit.

  3. Personally, I don’t think I’d want to be a professional writer, even if it turned out that folks liked what I did. This isn’t something particular to writing – it’s true of anything I consider a craft. Some folks work great under deadlines and can enjoy what they do even when their paycheck depends on it. I’m sure that if woodworking or blacksmithing or writing was my day job, all the fun would be sucked out of it ASAP.

    So – kudos to those of you who can keep writing complex interesting stuff even when the mortgage depends on it. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m glad that you do!

  4. If you’re waiting for inspiration to write, you’re not a writer, but a dilettante. To quote Hugh Grant in Music & Lyrics for the umpteenth time: Inspiration is for amateurs.
    Here’s the difference between being a pro and an amateur.
    An amateur says, “I’m going to earn a living from finding gold,” and then wanders along streams every so often, hoping to find alluvial nuggets.
    A pro becomes a miner, starts digging a shaft into a vein, and sets himself a target of x tons of ore to be extracted per day.
    Your creativity is a vein of ore, to be mined by yourself, not waiting for some river to start washing nuggets free. (If you have no such vein of creativity, then c’est la vie, become an accountant or programmer, whatever.)
    Not everyone is creative — or to continue the analogy, most people have very thin veins of creativity not worth mining. Some people have deep, rich veins of creativity, and the only thing preventing its exploitation is the will to put on a helmet, grasp the pickaxe, and start digging.

    [And now a quick commercial message: anyone who enjoys Victorian fiction like I do should run, not walk, to their bookstore of choice and buy Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. It is, by a country mile, one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in over five years, and it may well have changed the way I write in the future. I love this book so much I’m going to buy it in hardcover when it is remaindered.]

    • “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

      • Excellent quote. It also brings out why I have times when I am unable to write, the kind that DWS and KKR call ‘life rolls’. It’s not that I’m waiting for inspiration; it’s that sometimes I’m not strong enough to swing the club.

        At the moment, thank God, I’m making like an Irishman with a shillelagh. I hope it lasts long enough to get me somewhere.

        • YES. On sometimes lacking the strength. 2012 was LARGELY like that. I knew what I wanted to write. For frag’s sake, I have two books hanging from 3 days work, tops, and another two weeks away from being ready (a good editing.) And I just sat at the computer and COULDN’T.

          I don’t know if non-writers appreciate it takes PHYSICAL strength as well as will power, and since the year was one long neverend of minor illnesses, I LACKED the physical strength.

          • I really understand– I wrote 1/2 story (less than 1,000 words) for a year while I was under 1400 mg IV cytoxan (every four weeks) and 100 mg of pred for six months. However, I learned how to write a short story– (I wrote literary before)– I look at my first stories and I can see where I went wrong–

            The time I was in a hallucinatory world changed my writing forever.

  5. I am having one of those pissing days, Sarah. So I do a little wash, check for a pic for my cover, and get a short story collection ready to publish soon. I will try for 500 words today so that I can actually get some writing done. If not it could be days before I write– I can’t let it happen this year.

  6. I don’t have anything of insight to say, but I hope you feel better. Being sick is horrible, especially when it’s a chronic thing.

  7. Definitely explains the office, and interesting that all your family have the same problem. I’m getting “Beckoning Fair One” vibes right now -eery – but yeah, it’s an old house, and buildings can make you sick, especially if you’re already vulnerable to begin with.

    Hope you feel better soon, and that you’re able to work around it.

  8. I’m still young enough in my writing that I’m working out what works. Though maybe that doesn’t really stop, and one is always learning what really works. Or works better. Away from home seems to generally work better. Is it because I’m away from the familiar and its distractions? Not sure. My wife just left. Again. (Active duty, TDY to elsewhere) And that sends me for a bit of a loop, each time. I’m actually doing better this time around than previous, as I’m still writing in the days following her departure. On the other days, I tend to try the “productivity” route: ran errands yesterday. Shipped rifles, registered the car, found out the motorcycle brake light is malfunctioning, that kind of thing. Sleep is a big one – and compounded by the spousal departure – if I’m not getting enough sleep, all the mental processes tend to slow down. I have no idea how I’ll cope when we start making small humans and my sleep schedule gets completely borked. Food is also annoyingly limiting. If I haven’t eaten recently, things slow down. Exercise seems to grease the skids, as well. /sigh
    I used to be a philosopher. Dealt with the soul, and mind and metaphysics, I did. None of this crude matter. Messy stuff, that. And then human emotions. /sigh

  9. House blessing wouldn’t hurt. And if you don’t want to call in the priest, ’tis the season for Epiphany chalk.

  10. My AC guy tried to sell me a very expensive UV “kills everything” system to put into the air intake. I’m mightily temped to buy a cheap black light and just set it in there and see if it helps my allergies any.

    • My inlaws turned their house into a “hypoallergenic” zone. They took out all the carpets and other textiles and put down tile and fresh paint on the walls. Then they installed a central AC/heat system with a fancy filter and a UV zapper. You can hear that sucker zapping cruft out of the air. We used to go over there just to breathe. It was amazing. They have dogs now so it doesn’t work for me anymore but they’re still very happy with it.

  11. There is nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, I find. Back to work yesterday after three weeks lolling around in pj’s, and I have five projects, requiring an aggregate 15-20 designs. I don’t have a choice; I must produce. So I sit down and start a-producin’.

    I even find myself sometimes wishing I could get myself locked into a contract for my fiction, so I’d have to produce.

    I think you’ve said this, but it bears repeating, if only for the groundlings: the audience/reader/viewer can’t tell what came from purest inspiration and what you had to sweat copper-jacketed bullets to pull out of … yeah, there. I find myself looking back at work I did ten, twenty, thirty years ago and I can’t remember whether I was the golden god of the sun or a hungover beast on the day I conceived it.

    • actually some short stories — Something Worse Hereafter — I was so ILL while writing, that I was literally fighting for every word. I mean, I was sicker than I’ve been any time recently… and yet reading it now, it’s some of my finer work. Yeah, I might have given them a more complex back story had I felt better, but would it have BEEN better? I doubt it.

      • ‘I never worked less than ten hours and seldom more than fifteen per diem; and as our paper came out in the evening did not see the midday sun except on Sundays. I had fever too, regular and persistent, to which I added for a while chronic dysentery. Yet I discovered that a man can work with a temperature of 104, even though next day he has to ask the office who wrote the article.’ —Rudyard Kipling, ‘Something of Myself’

        You and Kipling have earned your stripes. Salute!

    • Mark, if I wanted to have deadlines imposed on me, I’d work for a boss again. BTDT, not again — UNLESS it’s for a boatload of money, which isn’t gonna happen.
      I set my own deadlines (e.g. “Finish Chapter 14 by the end of next week”), and work like hell to meeet it, but NOT at the expense of getting stomach cramps and all that jive.
      Self-discipline is better than boss-inspired discipline, and if you can’t hack it, you have to face up to the fact that self-employment may not be for you.

      • Brother, I **will** not argue that point with you. I spent a good part of the late vacation wishing I could do it full-time and finding THAT a powerful motivator to get there. Working on it. Working on it.

        Still and all, there are goads and there are goads. For the moment, I find that, having mouthed off in public and committed to doing the work and meeting the goals, I have MORE reason to apply fundament to chair and handiments to keyboard. For pride’s sake, if nothing else.


  12. I wrote a couple thousand words today. I think most of them are garbage. But at least I wrote. Hang in there.

  13. Yes, it’s a writing superstition. Deal. We’re worse than actors for those.

    So are you going to go all “The Scottish Play” on us, and start referring to Noah’s Boy only as “The Dragonish Book”?


  14. Understand and can commiserate with you. As someone re-entering the fiction-writing process, I keep running into snags I never did 20+ years ago. Health issues, social obs, unknown busybodies who seem to have my phone number…. I mean, I’m signed up on the Do-Not-Call list; but it doesn’t apply to non-profits. And it seems as though every NP in the country has my number.

    As a fellow writer friend counselled – keep plugging!

  15. I finished 2/3 of the “requested” revisions to an 85K word non-fiction work. Now “all” I have to do is revise the chapter I had to add, plus gutting and rewriting the technical material in the introduction and revising the conclusion. I really hope the next round is not “can you undo that stuff you did? The senior editor read the first submission and really liked the humorous tone.”

  16. I am not a published writer at all, and don’t really have the inclination to jump into making it a full time job. From what I have seen, it is no different to be a writer of any sort than it is to hold down a full time job. There are deadlines, self imposed or not. There are business details to tend to, and there are goals and schedules to keep up with. No matter what kind of job one has, it is still necessary to manage your time.

    I watch a lot of my friends who are published, or who are struggling to become published, work hard for months writing a good, or even, great story, only to become lost in the mire of the business of writing. Finding a pubisher, finding some sort of representative that actually wants to see them publish, contracts, rejections . . . and more than once, I have seen them just flat out give up. Even the self publishers etc.

    So, the fact that you are still fighing the good fight. Still creating, bad house, or not, says a great deal about your tenacity and willingness to press on, no matter what. Since you see the problem honestly, regardless of causation, you are half way to finding a resolution. Go for it.

    • Looks like a (-nother) flashing sign that there’s a business opening for “writing manager” for hire– or maybe a cut.

      These days, that would probably mean basic editing, maybe finding betareaders– depending on the author– formatting stories to be uploaded to various sites and monitoring for “issues.”

      Basically, a publisher, but working FOR the author.

      • You’ve nailed it, Foxfier. It’s also JUST the kind of jobs the future will have to offer – self-created, self-monitored, and self-supporting. Alpha/Beta readers, cover design, page layout, basic editing, formatting and uploading, rights management — a full-time job for one person if he has more than a dozen authors “hiring” him. Working for a percentage of royalties would probably be best, since that would force the “manager” to do his best, so he’d get the highest rates. If we can convince Congress to create an ISBN number for work solely provided in electronic means, at a much smaller cost and much less paperwork, you might add that to the list of things offered. It’s not a job I’d want (my life is too messed up to give it my best shot, and I admit it), but there ARE possibilities.

        • That sounds like the kind of idea I’ve been gravitating toward for a while. I love books and writing, and I love working with craftsmen (as working writers are), and the possiblities of the emerging writing economy excite me, but I am a much better editor and manager than I am a fiction writer. A role like that suits me wonderfully. There are some of the things you mentioned that I don’t know well, but I learn quickly. From your list, cover design and rights management would be my weakest points, but I have a graphic designer and an IP lawyer that I’d love to throw some business to. I’ll have to think about this some more; I think you two are really on to something here.

          • Go for it!

            Start a “Publish Your Novel!” company, take care of all the headaches involved in getting a novel out there for…hm… package starting at $100, and an additional cut of 5-10% if you also take care of the Amazon, etc publishing and upkeep.

      • There are such freelancer editors. Most have major warning flags, because the marketing pool of people whose stuff can be rendered publishable by an editor is much smaller than the pool of those who can be conned into thinking that.

        (That the editor, being an employee, has no clout with the writer is also a limiting factor, but that’s life.)

  17. “In the end, my readers probably won’t care if I wrote through a sinus headache. . . But they’ll mind if the books stop.”

    Yeh, for decades I’ve bemoaned the fact that writers I really WANT to read just can’t write as fast as I read. *heh* I just have to deal with that.

    Do what you have to. Hopefully conquer “the crud”too, but do what you have to. Readers will wait. Because we have to. 🙂