The Slothful Writer
The sloth earned it’s name not from it’s habits, but the human perception of them. You see, there’s a sin of slothfulness: laziness, the inability to get things done, much less in any kind of timely manner. So how did the innocent animal get named for a sin? Well, it’s slow. Takes the sloth a while to get anywhere. Takes the sloth a really really long time to poop (look, I was briefly a children’s librarian. Kids love poop facts. More than that, they love to share them with any adult in range. What can I say? Did you know the wombat has square poops?).
So what on earth does this have to do with writing? Well, I could be off on a tangent about incorporating some truly strange natural features into your alien species. I fell in love with Dave Freer’s writing when I recognized where he’d developed his aliens in Rats, Bats, and Vats from. That, and his dry sense of humor. But no. While I still think that exploring the fringes of natural history will net you rich fiction material, I’m actually talking about the reason the sloth is slow, and how that relates to me as a writer. Possibly to you, as I don’t think I am alone in this. The sloth is not slow for lack of motivation and ambition. The sloth is slow because he has to be. It’s what keeps him alive. The slow poops, just like the wombat’s squares, also serve a purpose. Wombats use their poo as natural legos, to build markers for their territories. Sloths don’t like to leave any trace of themselves that would open them up to predation. The algae in their fur helps with camouflage. The slow movements don’t attract the eyes of the hunters in their direction.
A slow writer in this market doesn’t attract a lot of attention, either. I see a lot of articles and discussion that have to do with volume. Put out 4, 5, 6 or more books a year, they say, and you too can be a successful Indie! It’s all about the hustle! Which is lovely. And it does work, at least for a while. But what about us sloths, who simply cannot produce at that level? Are we doomed to sink into the background and never attract readers? I’ve been wondering that a lot recently. I’ve toyed with giving up writing entirely – at least publishing. I could just write to amuse myself, and not put myself through the stress and effort to put a book on the market. It would be so much easier. I’m dealing with work being very demanding, three teenagers angsting, family needs me, I have things I want to do like seriously consider a graduate degree… I can’t. I physically cannot handle writing that many books in a year. I’m not sure I can realistically create even one book in a year.
This all came to the surface in the last few weeks as I struggled to meet a self-imposed deadline to get Possum Creek Massacre published, and out in paper, in time to have copies for LibertyCon. I’m not sure I succeeded. I ordered copies, yes, but they are scheduled to arrive the same day we leave for the con. So we shall have to see. More than that, though, I could not do. I have to sleep sometime. Formatting a book for print was… well, I did it the hard way. I wanted to create a book for print using LibreOffice for the purpose of writing it up here, and helping a lot of people who haven’t got the money to invest in something like Vellum, or even Word. I started publishing on a shoestring, and I have a lot of experiences I can pass on to help others not repeat my mistakes if nothing else. However… Ok. The first pass at creating a book with LibreOffice actually looks great. I have the proof copy right here by my keyboard. Except for one *coff* minor thing *coff*. It seems Amazon strips out blank pages from manuscripts. You know, that page you use to separate chapters so they all open on the correct side of the book? Yeah. That’s gone, and it messes your page numbers up something awful. So I had to reformat, resubmit, and that took me days. I swear to ghu I am going to hire a formatter next time I have a print book. I probably won’t, because I’m stubborn, but there it is.
So it’s not that I’m lazy or lack ambition. If anything, I try to take on too much. It’s simply that I have limitations. I’m a slothful writer. And that’s ok. I have twinges of envy, sure, when I see my friends relentlessly publishing and marketing, and their social media is all books, all the time. I can’t do it, though. I have had to accept that, and come to terms with it. Along the way I’ve had conversations with friends who have been very supportive of my keeping on writing, and publishing, at my own pace. I can’t hustle. I can be the tortoise who keeps plodding along for a very, very long time and look up at the end to see that I’ve outlasted much of my competition. So that’s the goal. Writing, for me, was always about being retirement income. I was self-employed for almost 20 years. I don’t have a retirement nest egg. I have eight novels, more short stories than I can keep track of, and twenty working years (at least) to go before retirement. I have all my rights, no publishers to fight with or agents to audit and hope they aren’t stealing me blind. My stubbornness has kept all my IP under my full control. My books need never go out of print. I have the time to build up an extensive backlist. I don’t need the writing income to make ends meet, so I can be the sloth and blend into the background for now. I have fans who give me hope. I’m not going to quit this.
Maybe later, I can make a big splash. Right now? If I take the time and energy to do that, I’d drown. Don’t get discouraged. Just keep moving forward and in time you’ll be closer than you think you are.