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?