I was told that some people enjoy the posts on the state of the writer, which is good because I intended to bless you with one today. Mostly because I’ve made some interesting observations on how I work, both from the PJM series on organizing your creative life, and from some other stuff. And some of the observations still puzzle me, and will possibly likewise puzzle you. Or perhaps not. I have, after all, got useful advice here before.
The state of the writer is as follows: I realized yesterday, as I was putting up two collections – Crawling Between Heaven And Earth and Wings – that I hadn’t put anything up in over six months. Worse, I hadn’t logged on in over six months, to do things like take stuff off prime, which means I burned two sets of promo without taking it. (Note I’m not putting links to them. They might not even be up, because of course having been published before, I probably need to confirm they’re mine to put up – even if they always were. Dark Regions never bought e-rights – at any rate, I intend to have them free and at 2.99 – being long collections and holding to my policy of having shorts IN COLLECTION at a little less than 99c each, Crawling will be 7.99 and Wings 9.99 – for the Human Wave Garage Sale first week of August. Since I love you guys, I’ll like when they’re free/cheap.)
I have had an account with Kobo for three months now and not put anything up. I have not put up at Smashwords things that have rolled off prime.
The problem is that, as my poor subscribers know, I also haven’t done much in writing. Oh, three short stories last month and one due in two days, but that’s not exactly a full work load for six months.
I haven’t even done much in the way of editing Witchfinder. I started, got discouraged, and didn’t get into it again until this last weekend.
So, what on Earth has been going on?
There are people who talk of the bees sting theory of poverty. Poor people might not have anything big wrong with them, but they have a multitude of little things. The idea is if you’re bee-stung often enough, your life will come to a standstill.
I don’t doubt this is the case with some poor people, though the times I’ve been in that situation, in a monetary way, there was underlying issues (health, mostly) beneath. Like right after Robert was born, I think I went into hibernation mentally and emotionally for about a year and a half, and things accumulated, like clothes that needed just a stitch to be usable again. And yes, we were desperately poor through that time. Robert was born on COBRA and cost us 20k out of pocket. But the way I was also meant that I couldn’t get off my behind and do something to alleviate the poverty, like attempt to sell some of our stuff, or make crafts for sale, or something. I’ve since found this isn’t unusual for people who are recovering from severe pre-eclampsia and being bed-ridden for six months. Radical de-conditioning and all that. I didn’t become myself again till we’d moved here and I made it a point of taking Robert for daily walks.
Interestingly, the latest symptom in the “Sarah isn’t doing anything” saga has been that I stopped daily walks for almost three weeks. Yes, I was sick and out of breath, but I should – and normally do – walk, even if slower.
So, what is going on?
It is my theory that I was already full-up as a writer. What I mean is that about two years ago, except for being terribly depressed about my prospects, I was writing four to six novels and some short stories a year and a blog almost every day, and that’s my full complement of work. Or at least, it was.
Then I started doing a blog every day. That’s fine, but I need to make an alteration (which I’ll explain) on my methods.
Then I started trying to do publishing.
Then I added the gig at PJM.
You know about the straw that broke the camel’s back? (There is a similar proverb in Portuguese which I can’t now remember about the grain of sand that broke the horse.)
Like that. The things added onto the writing are smaller each time, but the sum total of it is for me to sit here most of the time, feeling like I have so much to do I don’t know where to start.
Except, of course, I always knew where to start. I mean when I was fourteen/fifteen and desperately shy (I put up a good front online and I have a persona at cons, but as much as it would shock most of you I was the classical introvert growing up and to an extent still am) I would hide from large gatherings (which for some reason became very common for my family at this time of my life) by going to the kitchen and starting to “make neat” while the party was in progress. This also kept me out of my mom critiquing my social manners because she was so grateful that she could finish the party with the kitchen clean. (In a society with no paper plates/cups, often you washed the same dishes four times while the party was in progress.) Later, my friends started coming over from across the street to help and the kitchen party was as merry or more than the party-party.
Anyway, for really big parties, like my brother’s wedding, when I went into the kitchen, even right after it had started, it was mind boggling. There would be dishes, pots and pans piled on every surface and you just stared around and didn’t know where to start.
What I learned then is that you started anywhere at all. After you cleared the sink enough to start washing, you washed enough to clear a portion near you, covered that in towels (so you could invert dishes on it without water dripping onto the floor) and then started piling the clean dishes there, till you cleared and cleaned and covered in towels the next nearest area, by which time the first set was dry and could be put away. (My mom only got a dishwasher when I moved out – she has an instinctive dislike of machinery.)
It’s the same when you’re contemplating a mess in your schedule, of course, but the thing is that it’s not… as immediately obvious. It never occurred to me that I was overwhelmed, only that I always felt tired and vaguely ill (more on that later) and that what I really wanted to do was go away and work elsewhere (which I do at the undisclosed location known as officeish, though the last two or three times haven’t been very productive because I was so tired.)
Three things have happened to alter that. First, I went away to an undisclosed location over the weekend. Despite the fact that celebrating our anniversary took quite a bit of time – shut up wretches! I mean we went to dinner somewhere nice! Okay, okay, there was also the walk in the park with the geese (I love it this time of year because there are half-grown goslings.) – I took the print out of Witchfinder up, did about half of it and did not get discouraged by how many times I changed names of minor characters or such.
Also, I came back feeling very relaxed, which made me go “um.” And suddenly I was able to face publishing again.
The second thing relates to the time away too. By the second night, I woke up with my airways clear and realized that they hadn’t been for close to two years. We came back home and that night, I was clogged again and not sleeping very well.
I think I’ve identified the cause. It’s something that was done to our heating/air-conditioning system about a year after it was installed and which I SAID at the time was a stupid idea, but the workmen insisted was the only way to make the thing work. It eventually led to our aerostatic cleaner breaking and, well… let’s say the air in the house might as well be feeding from the unfinished crawl space. Which would be fine, if I didn’t have delicate airways. My younger son, too, has been “clogged up” for seven years.
So, I had an estimator over on fixing the mess – no, it won’t be cheap. Yes, I hate to spend the money. But I think in the long run it will do more for me than getting a cleaning lady, because when I’m not getting enough oxygen, I won’t use the extra time well. Also, it will make the house easier to keep clean.
The other thing in the same vein is that Havey will have to have a bath every week. THAT is going to be fun. However, I noticed when he had a bath at the vets, he was much pleasanter to be around for two weeks, so… (The other cats are all short hair.) I don’t know how much of this is Havey and how much it is that his fur absorbs household dust like… a duster, so he carries all the allergens around with him.
Okay – so what is the third thing I noticed? – well, last two weeks I put my blogs up ahead of time. I wrote them all on Sunday, then put them. This week I couldn’t do that, because Sunday was traveling, catching up on what was going on at home, and dealing with such things.
What I noticed is that if I do the blogs ahead of time this leaves me feeling less stressed and able to get more accomplished during the day.
The problem of course is that I usually conk out after 4 blogs in a day – which means to cover a whole week, I need a guest blog or so. So… If my delightful commenters want to pitch in, I’ll be grateful.
The other thing I’m doing – having realized everything ground to a TOTAL halt when I got back my backlist and wanted it all up “yesterday” – is paying people to edit my old stuff or for things I have to do myself (The Magical British Empire will take considerable but subtle rewrite.)
Again, as with cleaning the air, it’s something I hate to pay to do, because, well, I do. We have reason to believe – fingers crossed – our income will be secure for a while now, but still, in the times we live in, I don’t like spending money. (And writers’ income is always iffy, so…)
But sometimes you have to spend money to make money – and I think it’s criminal to have the books up and not up and pimping their slutty little selves.
Of course part of this is that getting people to do other stuff also inspires me with the desire to do more stuff – like I told Dan over getting someone to edit No Will But His “Now I feel like writing all the dead queens, from Aragon to Parr. And I could do it relatively easily because of course I know them so well. Probably a week per book, with maybe another week to research.
The problem is, of course, I still am only one person, I have two books due at Baen (and a third that will go to them too) and five indie books in various stages of writing/revision/editing. And I promised fans that if I can get all the musketeers up by December I’ll do The Musketeer’s Confessor for Christmas.
I do understand the process. Just like when faced with the horrible kitchen, if you keep at it, eventually you turn the corner, and then are doing each cup as it comes in, and sending your helpers in to scour the sideboards for abandoned saucers, and finish at the end of the party with a sparkling kitchen, there is a race here.
At a party it’s between your washing and the rate at which people use dishes. Here, it’s between my available time and the work load, keeping in mind that the more things I have out the more money comes in and the more – eventually – I have to pay people to do things.
Think about it, if I have enough out to bring in a minor salary, I CAN pay someone to clean and not feel guilty about spending the money. I might even have enough money to “buy time away” which means I get more done (objectively, over the weekend, I did what normally would take me a week.) Which means I get more stuff up, which means I make more money. Which will free more time for me to write things.
There is a limit, of course. Even I – probably – can’t write two books a month. Probably. At least not consistently. But I could do one a month, I think, if I didn’t have all the other responsibilities.
And of course, somewhere along the line, the kids will move out, too. They’re young men, and they shouldn’t give much work – I mean, they actually try to help – but there’s no denying there is a world of difference between running a household of two accommodating adults who spend most of their time together, and a household of four adults/young adults, which live very complex lives.
But right now I’m in the tough part – the part of getting as much stuff out as fast as I can, while not stinting the job.
And I’ve decided, yes, I’ll need to spend some money. And I’ll need to learn to trust and delegate. And I’m going to need to plan ahead. And I’m going to need to blog in advance.
It can be done. But the state of the writer, as of write now is hopeful if subdued and horrified at having to spend money ;).
Oh, and the thing is, with all this, I wouldn’t even be a bit surprised if having put this out there someone who’s been indie longer comes and tells me “Oh, that’s the year and a half slump. Like, you put something out, then it’s six months before you put the second piece? Yeah, a year and a half later, you have this slump and go silent for six months. Well known.” There are weird rhythms in these things that we’re just figuring out.
Well, we go on. And we find out.