I am a writer

More than a year ago, I agreed to take part in a new venture.  For more than a year before that, I’d been talking with friends in the publishing industry — writers, agents, etc. — about the changes happening in publishing.  To the man, each of us agreed that publishing as we’d known it was going to have to change or it would go the way of the dinosaurs.  Technology, lifestyle changes and demands of the public had to be taken into consideration.  More than that, authors needs a place to go to actually have their work considered and, hopefully, published.  From that discussion grew Naked Reader Press and a job I love.

Fast-forward to this past week.  For the first time in a year, I took a week off.  Even though I stayed home, I didn’t boot up the work computer and only checked work email once a day.  Only the emergency emails got answered.  Everything else is waiting for me to go back to work Tuesday.  In some ways it has been wonderful.  I’ve slept in some and I’ve gotten a lot of work done around the house.  Most of all, my mental and physical batteries have been recharged.

But something did happen to surprise me.  I’d known my writing output had been down dramatically this past year.  It really didn’t surprise me.  After all, I spend the day, often 10 to 12 hours a day, reading slush, editing titles we’ve accepted or verifying that our e-books have been properly formatted.  Sometimes, I even jump in to help with the formatting and conversion of the e-books to help out.  By the time I’ve done that, my brain is fried and I don’t have the energy to write.

What I hadn’t realized is how that was starting to weigh on me.  I am, first and foremost, a writer.  If I don’t write regularly, my tension level increases.  Writing is an outlet in many ways.  It’s a lesson I’d learned years ago.  It is also a lesson I’d forgotten.

One of my goals this past week was to finish a novel I have a deadline on, a deadline that is looming large.  I had the house to myself for five days.  Plenty of food, coffee, chocolate…what more could a writer want?

Everything started off as planned.  I booted up the laptop, my writing computer, and away I went.  The words came easily.  They seemed to flow.  I didn’t think it completely sucked.  Then, further in than I care to admit, I realized something.  This wasn’t the book I was supposed to be writing.  different genre — well, sub-genre — and much different voice.  I stopped and reread everything I’d written.  Could I save it?  Did I want to?

The answer to both questions was “yes”.  The problem is that it can’t be made into what I’m supposed to be delivering in just a very few days.  So, amidst a lot of grumbling, cussing and kicking of oneself — and let me tell you, it is really hard to kick yourself in the rear end when you’re not as flexible as you were as a kid — I put aside that novel and started over.

And guess what.  Yep, you got it.  My muse was being a b**ch again.  A cruel, vindictive b**ch with a perverse sense of humor.  Another fifteen hours of writing and another novel that wasn’t going to work for what I needed.  This one, however, because it was going all over the place.  Both of the main characters had their own plots going on.  Suddenly there were scenes or chapters coming from the point of view of secondary characters who insisted on having their say.  It was like watching a tennis match sped up to almost lightspeed.

Sigh.  Crap.  Coffee changed to something stronger.  Head beat against the wall.  Repeat.

Finally, I get started on the right project.  It’s flowing and my time alone is coming to an end.  But at least I finally have a handle on the book and feel I can finish it without blowing my deadline too badly.  Then, as I’m talking to Sarah, bemoaning the fact that my muse has been so cruel — and doing my best to ignore her laughter — I get infected with yet another plot for another book.  Head to desk.

Then Sarah pointed out what I knew and just turned a blind eye to.  I’d been putting so much effort into helping get NRP off the ground that I’d been ignoring my muse.  I hadn’t been writing like I wanted — or needed — to.  So of course my muse was beating me over the head this week.  It was the first time I wasn’t pushing it into the back room and closing the door on it.  Then she asked the hard question:  what was I going to do to make sure this didn’t happen again?

I spent a lot of time yesterday asking myself that same question.  No, this isn’t a post announcing my departure from NRP.  I am as committed to the press now as I was when the owners asked me if I wanted to go to work for them.  Nor am I announcing that I’m not going to write any more.  That would be like cutting off an arm or a leg.  What it means is I have to compromise, not something I do easily.

So I have taken the time I’ve spent cleaning the house and shopping for relatives  who arrive later today to think.  There has to be a happy medium where I can do my job for NRP and still write as I need to.  More than that, I have to watch for the clues that I’m getting too stressed because I’m not writing.

For me, those clues are easy to recognize.  First, chocolate moves from just one of the necessary food groups to the only food group besides coffee.  Second, and even more telling, when I’m not working, I’m blowing things up in video games.  I’m a gamer and have been since those days back in the cave when we drew on the walls and used stones as game markers in the sand.  But my gaming is something that is usually done only on weekends and rarely for more than a couple of hours per weekend.  When the gaming starts happening on a daily basis and for hours each day, I’m stressed to the gills — and thathat means I’m not writing.

But I also have to exercise another bit of self-discipline.  I have to force myself to put butt in chair and write.  Unfortunately, that is easier said than done.  I know exactly what Sarah was talking about in one of her posts when she talked about getting an office.  My home is my office.  The space that used to be my writing space is now where I do NRP business.  I don’t write well when the rest of the family is home.  So I have to find a schedule where I either write when the family is gone or I find a place away from the house where I can write.  Fortunately, there are several nice coffeehouses near me as well as our new library.

More than anything, I need to remember that feeling I get when the words flow and the plot is coming at me so fast I can barely type fast enough to keep up.  Despite the stops and starts this week, the tension that had my shoulders in knots and my ulcer kicking up are gone.  I have one book well on its way to completion.  I have another that won’t take much to complete it.  There is another that is plotted and waiting none too patiently to be written and then there is the exploding plot with way too many points of view that needs to be figured out.  I am, again, a writer and will not let myself forget it again.

Balancing family, work and writing is nothing new for writers.  We each cope differently.  What about you?  How do you manage it and what happens when you try to deny the writing?

18 comments

  1. It is probably evidence that I am not a writer that my muse is more like the rodent on Groundhog Day. He pokes his head out of his burrow, looks around, perhaps nibbles a bit of nearby grass and says “Stuff this I am going back to sleep for another month”. So I don’t have a problem denying the writing.

    But I do know a bit about stress and alarm bells started to ring when I saw the mention of “10 to 12 hours a day”. There is a reason why the slogan for Labour Day is “Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest”. Good to hear you are re-looking at your load to see what is most important(There is always too much important stuff to do:-( ).

    1. Brandan, that is all part of their bag of tricks. I think it’s their way of seeing if you’re serious about being a writer or not. After all, why should the muse be bothered to come out and give you these great story lines if you aren’t going to play?

      Seriously, it is something I’ve talked to a number of other writers about and the one thing they all said is to start writing on a daily basis when your muse is acting like that. You have to train yourself to write on a regular basis — something I let myself get out of the habit of doing. Which is why the muse has been such a witch this past week.

      And you’re right about there always being too much important stuff to do. Still, I’d rather have it that way than be bored.

      1. Sorry, meant to type Brendan — I do know how to spell it. It’s my son’s middle name. This is what happens when I am trying to do too many things at once.

      2. Lol.

        It is okay. I have ten years of swimming trophies with my name spelt with an ‘o’ to get me used to the mistakes people make. Plus ask anyone about what makes chat covos with me unique and they are sure to say “the typos”. I am not one to judge.

  2. Amanada, nothing, nothing makes better aversion therapy than reading slush. I wish I’d known that back when. I could have used it keep myself on a diet. “You can’t eat that until you’ve put in three hours on slush. No, no IOUs!”

    Set a reasonable number of hours for slush reading, a reasonable number of hours for all the rest of the work. They shouldn’t total more than eight hours a day, five days a week. Or ten hours a day, four days a week. If you feel you can’t get the work done in those hours, take a good hard look at _how_ you are doing those jobs. When I started reading slush, I was nice. I tried to read enough to write a letter that would help the writer improve. Even the hopeless ones. But the job of a slush reader is to find publishable manuscripts, not run a free writing class. Remember that, and spend less time on the hopeless ones. The almost good enough, read enough to tell them why, but don’t critique the whole thing. Just “Your dialog tags are confusing, your run on sentences a tangle.” If you’re saying more than a sentence or two, you’re crossing back into teacher territory.

    I understand the temptations. “This is so good, I can’t put it down. It’s not publishable but . . . ”

    You have to put those aside and read them later, for pleasure, and maybe write a whopper of a critique. Sometimes you just have to. But don’t mistake it for “reading slush” time. When the time is short, you just have to make yourself stop reading and write; “This is a terrific story, but it needs the world building and personal details cut back so they don’t slow the pace, and scan the whole for these three repeated types of errors before you send it off to someone else” Or even “I’d love to see it come back, all cleaned up, but I can’t promise to buy it.”

    Sorry, lecture from burned out slush reader. Don’t over do it!

    1. Pam, thanks for the advice, but that’s really not the problem. We all knew it could be when NRP started up. That’s why we have specific submission periods. No, the problem is that we are a small company but we are determined to do as much as possible AND put out quality e-books at the same time. So, we all wear a number of different hats and, by the end of the day, I’m too tired to deal with my persnickety muse.

      It’s also why I don’t see the slush until after the first set of slush readers have read it and made their recommendations. I still look at everything that comes in, but it helps, as I’m sure you know, to have already had another set of eyes on a submission before you see it.

      1. Oh yes. The “It get’s better after the third chapter” or “Falls flat on it’s ass at the end” comments can really help. I’m not sure about saving time though.

        I don’t know enough about the rest of the business to advise on time saving strategies, elsewhere.

  3. Amanda, I’m trying to find a balance between my lecturing job, renovating, running a house with 5 kids and writing. This last week, writing has failed. (Did 12 hours of solid marking on Friday, then went into work on saturday and marked. Gaaah!). Am feeling twitchy.

    Tried writing on the train, but my elbows kept hitting people, then I got a kink in my neck from hunching my elbows in while typing on my lap top. Have to find something that works soon, or I’ll go ga ga.

    1. Rowena, I hear you. I still have to finish flooring the attic and then tape, bed and mud the ceiling where we had sheetrock damage. But that is going to wait until it’s not over 100 in the garage and 120 in the attic. As for the problems of elbow room on the train, that’s why I always have a notebook with me. It is also why I am looking at tablets. Less room needed for them and easier to transport than the laptop.

      Good luck finding a solution. Let me know what works so I can steal, er adopt, the same method.

  4. IF I had a dime for everytime I finish a book and have planned two-three days (yeah, let me tell you, weekends around here I’m lucky to get two hours off) vacation, just lazing about and reading, and the ideas start raining down on me… I’d have a lot of dimes. My way to circumvent this is the famous “take me to Denver” plea to my husband. That usually takes care of it. Not always, though. Sometimes the stories ideas hit SO HARD I have written outlines on napkins, short stories on hotel stationary, etc… Most of the time, though the combination of tired and no computer keeps me from trying to write, and i can come back to work refreshed.

    1. That laughter you hear is me laughing hysterically. Time off? What is time off? I have to look up vacation in the dictionary to make sure I remember what it means. Besides, you laughed at me, so I get to laugh at you. Bwahahahahaha.

      Wait, who are those men in the white jackets. Don’t they know I don’t look good in white and those long sleeves on that coat they want me to put on don’t do anything for my figure.

      Running away now, before they get any more ideas about padded rooms and muzack.

      ;-p

      1. Yeah, my husband considers it his duty to haul me away from the computer on weekends. Of course, now he’s overcommited, and I’ve laid down the law and bought the plane tickets. “You will take a vacation. You will sit on the rocks and catch fish.”

  5. Brendan, that is exactly what my son says…usually followed by asking why his father and I had to give him two middle names and why the other middle name is the only one of his names that doesn’t have multiple ways it can be spelled. My response, because I am such an understanding mother, it to remind him that I could have given him the Irish spelling for Patrick and then where would he be in the middle of Texas where folks have a horrible time trying to figure out how to pronounce Sean, much less spell it correctly.

    1. Tell him he should be proud of his name since where would he be if Saint Brendan hadn’t sailed the Atlantic in his hide boat and discovered America? Not only was Saint Brendan a remarkable man but his biographer was as good a writer of fantasy as anyone in the biz today, so a good score on two points in my mind.

  6. I’ve been so busy lately that writing, which was going swimmingly for a month or so, screeched to a halt. What with ten to twelve hour work days, plus language courses, plus weekend travel to interesting places… My writing output is down quite a bit. I was going to finish my current work this weekend, but butt to chair didn’t work too well. It didn’t help (well, actually it did help in a way) that I had an entirely new story (maybe even a series of novels) smack me upside the head last week. People were looking at me funny last week. I was walking and talking, but my mind was totally focused on this new story idea.

    1. Chris, one thing I really encourage you to do while in Israel is keep a journal. You are doing and seeing so many wonderful things there, but journal writing is a way to keep the muse active even if you aren’t working on a story. But, in the meantime, remember one thing: I want to read the story when it’s done ;-p

  7. A,
    I’m keeping a journal, plus a photo journal, plus I’m using FB as a running journal. So much to write about out here. I find it really fun to consider my commentary and non-fiction writing out here juxtaposed with the general lack of sanity my characters have. 🙂

    No worries, you will see the stories when they’re ready to see something other than the ones and zeroes of my computer and the dark corners of my mind.

  8. Self-discipline means a lot to me. I have to have a plan, a routine or nothing gets written, nothing gets done. A week of vacation is important to reboot. Sometimes even a day is enough, and then, it is like a new story. Everything falls into places. 🙂

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