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.

29 thoughts on “The Slothful Writer

  1. I think the two things that most interfere with writing are kids and a job. You’ve got both at the same time. Don’t beat yourself up over the _third_ job being a bit neglected.

    I couldn’t “mom” and work. I quit to raise the kids. I couldn’t “mom” and write . . . well, anything publishable. Those were my practice and learning years. Once the kids were off to college, I could write . . . and spend years waiting for a trad publisher to buy.

    Which is how I started with a huge backlog of finished, or almost finished, manuscripts when KDP dropped in my lap and removed the need to please the gatekeepers.

    I think that backlog, representing decades of writing in small increments of stolen time, and five years of not publishing traditionally, is what let me publish so many things so close together.

    So maybe you need to think in terms of a slow buildup, and publish later.

  2. Pam makes some really good points there, about the slow buildup. But another thing to consider is that even when you are older and tireder (is that a word, LOL?), and need to retire from your outside job, you’ll still be physically able to write for as long as you have your mental faculties. And that should be a very long time, since most of our family are long-lived, and at least on my side of the family, we don’t do things like Alzheimer’s. So you should be good to go at least until you are ninety or so! And that will help with your retirement income, as well. Assuming there aren’t any major changes in the world between now and then, and fifty years could bring a few, but you are adaptable and intelligent, so I think you’ll manage.

  3. This is an issue I have been wrestling with as well and it’s hard to talk about without sounding either complaining or elitist, and I hate being called either.

    But I am becoming convinced that the kind of writing that produces a novel every two to three months is a different sort of activity than what I do.

    And this is where people start telling me that I’m an ivory tower literary snob, which believe me, I’m not. As a high school drop out who works on a university campus, I consider myself pretty well inoculated to that kind of thing.

    But there are different kinds of writing, and the books that I read for pleasure aren’t the kind of books that get written in a couple of months.

    VALIS, Dhalgren, Nova Express, Golem 100, Weaveworld, The City & The City, Declare, What Entropy Means To Me, The Lathe Of Heaven–these are hard books, ones that you have to puzzle out and find new connections upon rereading. And they are what I read for enjoyment.

    I’m not saying that they are better than quick and easy reads, just different. And I’m not claiming that enjoying that kind of fiction means that I’m smarter than anyone else, it’s a matter of taste. Temperament, maybe.

    And that’s the kind of thing I write. I’ve tried doing simple, straightforward stories that follow a tried and true formula, but it bores me, and I’m sure it would bore anyone who tried to read it.

    And maybe I could learn to do that well enough to sell those kinds of stories, but I’d hate it. And if I’m going to do something I hate to put food on the table I might as well stick with my day job, which at least I’m good at.

    I’ve got nothing against writers who can write quickly and simply. It’s just not for me. I tend to pick up Kindle versions of books by writers I know casually online, as a show of support, but to be honest I don’t read most of them. Possum Creek Massacre is one of very few MGC author books I’ve been able to finish, actually. (Don’t take that as a compliment, it probably means the general public will hate it,)

    So I figure a career writing for money is not for me. But, when I think about it, most of my literary inspirations had to have some kind of real job to pay the bills, too.

    1. I’m flattered. You are likely correct that PCM and it’s precursor, Snow, are not likely to have popular appeal. But I needed to write them, and their planned sequels (at least two coming).

      There is definitely a niche for the gripping, thoughtful read, not just the pulp fiction. I like both. But they take different mental muscles to read. And I tend to read ‘lightest’ fiction when I’m sick.

      1. fwiw, I really liked “Snow in her eyes” and the review copy of “Possum Creek Massacre” (I need to get the release copy, just as soon as I have the pennies saved.)

  4. I’m right there with you. When I had my old position as a Marine electrician, a job that was harder on the body but didn’t require a HEAVY lifting in the mental arena I could maybe get out a book a year. Since then I was given a new job. I’m the supervisor for a team of instructors that have written and are now delivering a 210 touch hour set of fiber optics installation and repair courses. I come home mentally exhausted, and many days I don’t get a single word on the page. It’s taken me two years to finish this book and it’s not there yet. (I can, however, SEE the end)

    1. Huzzah for being able to see the end! I think part of my slowness is that mental challenge – although oddly, I wrote faster while I was in school. But my job is far more than the technician aspect at this point and keeps my brain working. I love it, but it does wear me out.

    2. Totally understand; I claim my writing comes from spare brain cycles, because it totally dried up anytime I had to tackle something new and information-dense. I’m trying to reverse-engineer that now, because when it stopped for health, I”m trying to get it going again by tackling a couple FAA exams… when the overloaded brain finishes the problem and has spare brain cycles free, maybe they’ll fill up with fiction?

  5. I continue to maintain that many writers fall prey to mistaking their tool set for the entire possible range of tools needed for any project. We’re all familiar with the how-to books where writers say “this is THE way to write”, when really they mean “this is what worked for me.

    Similarly, I think there’s a lot of folks who are writing pulp – and it’s glorious, wonderful pulp that entertains millions – but they (and often the others reading them) forget that “this is THE way to be a successful author” is really only the way that worked for them.

    If you have to publish 3 or 4 books a year to be successful, well, then these guys named Jim Butcher, Terry Prachett, Clifford Simak, Robert Aspirin, Larry Niven, Patricia Briggs, Anne Rice… clearly nobody’s ever heard of them and they never were successful, because they didn’t put out 3-4 books a year, right? And if they ever did, as soon as they stopped, everyone forgot their existence…

    Or maybe volume isn’t the only way.

  6. I also think that what people say will work now is clearly unsustainable over the long haul. What I mean is that KU and all the other internet outlets that let people binge are the equivalent of being the first to a new gold field. Pickings are easy but it simply can’t last. If no one watches new shows there won’t be new shows to binge on later.

  7. We had dumb manual formatting software, ended up using “This page intentionally left blank.” on every blank page we wanted to keep. Maybe something similar but less obnoxious would make Amazon behave?

    1. I use page styles so that the first page of every chapter is in the right place, and then I PDF the thing. Has seemed to work so far, but it’s been a few months since I put a new one up…
      When I gave myself headaches was trying to take something that looked perfect in LO and put it in Word because they discouraged PDFs.
      Similarly, I had to use Jutoh to put an epub on D2D, because they couldn’t read my LO file correctly.

          1. It may have been the template I was using. I didn’t have the time to fiddle and figure it out. I can say that the last paper book i formatted was when it was still Createspace, and although there seems to be a lot of overlap, KDP print does have some differences.

  8. Will the software let you type something on the blank page, and then change the text color to white?

    Yep, I’m hoping to fool the software into thinking the page isn’t blank.

    I read somewhere that that trick is used to inflate the work count in documents.

    1. Would a zero-width space Unicode character do what you need to do? According to Wikipedia:
      The Unicode for it is U+200B ZERO WIDTH SPACE (HTML ​)

      1. a bunch of

        would probably work without something like text you hope will print invisibly…

  9. Technically sloth is not doing what you ought to be doing. Hence, vacuuming the cat with great vigor and effort is also sloth.

  10. Publishing slow seems a bit like going back to school late. I did get a job in my field with a BA but I’d talked to my adviser about not having time to get a graduate degree because I’d be 55 at least, or older. Or 60. And she said, “Well, then you’ll be 60 with a graduate degree.”

    So you write a book a year. Then in five years you’ll have five books. If you don’t write because you can’t write fast enough, then you’ll have zero books. Go back for the graduate degree. In three years or so, then you have a graduate degree. If you don’t, you won’t.

    (And really, your ambitions exhaust *me* just watching you. And inspire me. Truly.)

  11. Oddly, I find formatting more enjoyable than writing about half the time. I think what keeps me going on the current WIP is the fun of finally getting to crack open Sigil and play with css. As for print versions, I have a copy of InDesign (thanks to my job) that allows me to create pdfs with blank pages. No troubles on uploading.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: