Writing is a lot of work. Oh, I always knew that, of course, but writing a book over 2, 3, 5 or 7 years stretches all that work out and makes it feel like a lot less.
Or at least a lot less all at once.
I was about halfway done with RAPTURE when I got official word that my publisher wanted it. However, they also wanted it in early 2012 so we could make a late 2012 release date and keep me on the book-a-year schedule that’s seen as so desirable these days.
Lest you think it’s merely desirable for a publisher so they can push product, think on this: today, our attention spans are shorter than ever. If you’re a writer who isn’t being talked about at least every few months, you’re going to end up in obscurity rather quickly. Writing and marketing a book a year, and putting out short fiction, and all the rest, is the only way to stay top of mind. Having a backlog of books at some point may help me, but right now I feel like I’m fighting for market share in a rapidly cluttered marketplace.
So I have a draft due March 1st, but am pushing to get my own rough draft done by January 1st so I can spend at least a couple months mulling and revising. There’s nothing worse than a book that’s obviously been rushed out the door and ill-thought-out. These books in particular live or die based on my own knee-jerk laziness. If you knew the kind of Crazy that went into the first drafts of both GOD’S WAR and INFIDEL, you would weep (I did).
So that two month down time to ruminate over a complete draft is vital for the book, and my sanity.
What’s not so great for my sanity is that that meant I needed to write the draft of the second half of the book in about three months. I’d been muddling with the first half for about a year. The thing is, it’s a lot easier for me to focus on finishing a book when I have a deadline. Books will fill all the time I give them. I needed the deadline.
But I won’t lie – the long, slogging march to the end is brutal.
I am tired, and cranky, and not devoting enough time to loved ones and hobbies and fitness and book marketing. I have a day job that pays the bills and takes up a lot of writing time/brain energy – I wrote a lot of day job words last month in addition to fiction words – and looking at the cost/benefit to my writing time at the day job vs. the fiction is… sobering.
I told J. that it felt like, the last couple of months, all I was doing was working. To which he replied… well, that’s because all you are doing is working. Even when I sat down the other night to watch a show about combat training on Netflix while eating dinner, I was taking notes, and trying to figure out at which point in the training regime each of my characters would drop out (it tells you a lot about a person).
I am not dying, mind you. It’s not like I’m doing heavy labor sixty hours a week, but it’s… taxing. My brain is tired, squeezed dry like a rancid sponge. I have a week off at Christmas, which I will be spending the same way I spent my week off at Thanksgiving… writing.
You wouldn’t believe just how much of the wild writing life involves… writing.
And when the draft is done, it’s off to the library again to fill my brain back up so I can flesh out some of the lazy worldbuilding hand-wavey filler I’ve got in here to tide me over until I have the headspace to create actual scenery that doesn’t look like, say, the house I live in.
Which is where I am spending a lot of time these days.
It’s a good thing I really like my house.
I’m doing all of this with the knowledge that there are a whole lot of writers who work a lot harder than me. Many of them who also have day jobs and families to juggle. Watching them write 2-3 books a year and a bunch of short fiction and win a bunch of awards and not fall over is… disheartening. I feel like I should be able to squeeze out more. My brain should be more robust. I should be better able to juggle everything.
Instead, I’m watching other projects slide away and prioritizing my book over… well, everything. My only reprieve is working out to episodes of Bones or The Biggest Loser or Star Trek and tuning out for 60-90 minutes. Even reading feels like a guilty indulgence, as every time I get into bed, I feel like I should have my laptop with me so I can bang out a few more words.
There is some good stuff in this book, and seeing a montage of all three covers on my computer desktop makes me immensely proud. But this is not a profession for people who just want to sit on the beach in Maui all day sipping pina coladas. Working on my third contracted book has resulted in far less patience for people who say they want to be writers, or who come to me looking for “advice” on how they can live the writing life of “ease and convenience.”
All I want to do right now is yell at these people.
I’m often reminded of something Sam Delaney wrote, about how he had always prioritized his writing over his partners, and his health. I gave up everything to write for most of my roaring 20’s, and though it eventually got me a novel contract, I was an incredibly unhappy person.
I’m a lot happier now, but even more introverted, because in addition to writing, and having a partner, and managing a household and day job career, I’m also spending a lot of headspace managing a chronic illness. In order to go back to living in Nyx-land forever, I’d have to throw all of that out again.
Some of that is doable. Some of it is not.
But even then…. would it be worth it? I look at book sales and book checks right now, and to me, well – it really isn’t. This is a heartbreaking, competitive, and exhausting profession. You have to really love it to do it, and you have to know how to prioritize it in order to carry on.
So don’t ever come to me and tell me you want a quick fix, an easy way to make money. Don’t tell me writing is the best thing in the whole world… but only when you feel like it. Don’t tell me that if you “had the time” you would “be a writer” too.
No one has the time. No one’s sitting on a beach. Nobody gets a quick fix.
I am tired. And I have a book to finish. And there are some nights I want to cry about it.
Because at the end of the day, despite the angst, and the despair, and the wallowing – I really want to be a successful writer. I want to be good at it. And tell lots of stories. It’s all I ever wanted.
Turns out I got a lot more besides that to work toward, now.
It’s figuring out how to have everything without epically failing at all of it that’s the struggle.