On Chaos and Writing: How to be Efficient in the Face of Pandemonium
Oh, hey, look! It’s the chick who said she was going to start blogging again and yet it’s been what, a month since her last post? Way to go, me!
But seriously, a month—which used to be approximately thirty days long—is now about three and a half days long. It’s incredible how the time-space continuum shifts when you have a kid. Once upon a time, I thought seven hours of sleep was not that much. You mean I’m going to go to bed at midnight and wake up at seven in the AM? Fat chance, Bucko. Now? A solid four hours with no interruptions is like a two-week vacation. A whole night? Have I died in my sleep? Because this must be heaven...
And, of course, on top of now officially being the mom of a toddler (what? How?), I released IF YOU SEE HER (please go buy it so I can buy luxury items, such as food) which had its own set of problems. Remember how I was muttering about how I felt out of my depth with this indie publishing stuff since I hadn’t done it in an eon? Welp, as expected, “issues” arose. But hey, live and learn, right? The book is out there, it’s getting great feedback (I assume—I mean, I see the star rating on Amazon and think, “oh, hey, I did a good job”; but as always, I don’t read reviews). I’m getting occasional messages from readers saying that they loved it, and that, quite frankly, is a huge relief.
One of the scariest aspects of going from regular publishing to indie publishing is something that’s considered a “pro”: no gatekeepers. While in theory, this is fantastic; in practice, it can be terrifying. Because you literally don’t have anyone to call you out on your shit. My editor at Simon & Schuster was dreamy to work with. We got along like Scooby Doo and Shaggy. Once, my agent murmured something about a “love-fest.” (I’m sure that was jealousy talking. Because who wouldn’t be jealous of a love-fest with someone as illustrious and down-right incredible as Shaggy? You thought I was going to say “me”, didn’t you? You flatter me. But seriously…) Anyway, the point is: my editor—who was definitely Shaggy, since he was always a bit nervous and terrified of ghosts—was also relentless. He pointed out the most trivial of details, like, “oh, this isn’t accurate, Ania. Better fix it in case someone loses it and reports you to the book police. Zoinks!” Sometimes it was annoying. Other times it was hilarious. But it was always beneficial, and I thank him for ramping up my anal-retentiveness to eleven when it comes to editing (and pursuing Old Mister Withers)…otherwise, IF YOU SEE HER may have been a disastrous mess.
All that said, my greatest fear for IF YOU SEE HER was that folks were going to sigh and be, like, “well, now that she doesn’t have someone holding her hand, the wheels have fallen off the Mystery Mobile.” (Okay, I hear you. I’ve overcooked the Scooby Doo references.) Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case. I mean, I’m sure someone out there is rolling their eyes at me, clicking their tongue at every little thing, dissecting my blood-sweat-and-tears like a budding serial killer dissecting a grasshopper behind a woodshed full of garden shears and axes. But hey, that’s the cost of putting your creativity out there. Is it still cool to say “haters gonna hate?” No? Well, crap…
So, what now? I mean, I’ve spent a solid six months doing nothing but editing. If that sounds like an incredibly long time to edit something, it’s because it is. As I said earlier, one month has now effectively been parred down to three days. And if you look at it that way, woah, guys, I edited the hell out of this book in twelve days. Beat that, Stephen King! But seriously, what now? Beyond the LitReactor class coming up and two short stories in a couple of anthologies coming your way (Hex Life is one), and, oh yeah, raising a tiny screaming human, my plate is empty for the next...three days. And as I find myself at this weird what-now crossroads, I can’t help but remember a blog post I wrote back in 2011.
The post was titled Master Jedi that Writer Is, and it deals with efficiency and how to make your writing goals a reality. Because my days are so chaotic right now, and because there are times when I’m utterly exhausted while feeling like I’ve gotten literally nothing done, I thought it might be interesting to revisit that post now. So, without further ado, I give you an oldie but goodie. As usual, my current comments on my ever-so-confident and childless me’s post will be in italics.
I have this weird fear of being controversial. It probably comes from the fact that I'm not a very confrontational person. Oh, I know... some of you are laughing. Me? Non-confrontational? But it's true. I've never started a fight in my life...
...but I did kill a man...
Anyway, I say I'm not big on controversy because the subject of this post balances precariously on the knife edge of debate. Some of you will agree with me. Those who don't will throw dirt in my eye. Lucky for me, I'm wearing my glasses. Your dirt will not deter me... much.
I just saw a post on Twitter by someone I don't know and probably won't ever know. The question was: how many hours have you dedicated to your current writing project? His answer: over 8,500 hours.
Hey look, a calculator. How handy.
8,5000 hours divided by twenty-four hours in a day equals... drum roll please... three hundred fifty-four days. Now, let’s be realistic and say that this guy has a job. (Or a kid.) Let's say he only works part-time and sleeps seven hours a night. (Lucky bastard.) Let's give him some free time to do things like shower and eat and watch a bit of television. (Seriously, who is this guy, some sultan prince?) I'm going to be generous and say he writes six hours per day. (Jesus, I remember being able to write six hours per day. I’m guessing those days are behind me for the next ten to twelve years, at least.)
3.8812 ... that's years. Nearly four years of writing six hours a day, seven days a week. Working on the same writing project. (Okay, clearly that’s ridiculous.)
I have one thing to say: you're shitting me.
Newsflash: if you ever want to make a living off of writing, not only do you not spend 8,500 on a writing project, but you can't. Hell, give this guy a year to recover (he sure deserves it!) and that's one book every five years. Two books per decade. If you're lucky, you'll be able to write a dozen books in your lifetime, and that's with a whopping six years off.
It took me eight weeks to write a 75,000 word novel. (Oh, here we go! The old me being all braggy and shit. Old me, you have no idea what’s coming for you.) That's seven days a week, two to three hours per day. (Full-time jobs and mental exhaustion tend to cut in to writing time.) (I laugh at this. I remember having a full-time job. You know what’s cool about a full-time job? After you clock out, you’re done. New horror novel right here: MOTHERHOOD, you clock in and NEVER clock out.) So, roughly, I spent 180 hours composing a first draft. That doesn't count in hours for revision and editing, but let me be the optimist and say that it isn't going to take me an extra three years. (Okay, all snotty commentary to the old me aside, regardless of babies, there’s no way that writing a first draft would take me more than six months. Even with the current state of things, I’m going to say I can get at least two hours of work in per day. Sure, that work is going to be fragmented. Maybe an hour during a nap and another hour after the kid has hit the sack for the night, but two hours? Doable.)
I get it. Writers have been conditioned to believe that writing a book should take years. We've somehow been magically convinced that to create something of any worth, we have to spend years of our lives torturing ourselves, picking apart a single sentence for weeks on end, rewriting the same paragraph for months at a time, all in the name of perfection, all in the name of 'The Next Great American Novel'.
Pardon me while I kick-start this debate, but you're insane. And if you're one of those people who's spent twenty years on a single novel, please, enlighten me how you're going to make any money off your craft. Seriously, I'm listening.
Okay, I hear you. "It isn't about money." I tip my hat to you if that's the case. You're a true artist. I, however, have spent a good amount of time making a living off of something I don't enjoy, so to think that I can make a little dough off of something I love doing... well, call me a dirty capitalist, but that sounds pretty awesome.
Quite frankly, I can't begin to imagine spending nearly four years on a single project. I'd get bored... and not just 'ho-hum this is a drag' bored, but self-destructive let's-burn-the-house-down bored. Violently bored. Maybe I'm just not capable of it. (Oh, you’re capable of it, old me. Just you wait and see…) Maybe that's some sort of Jedi writing level I'll never attain. But to me it seems, dare I say, compulsive? You can't let go of your work, obsessively picking at it until you eventually look like Gollum (my precious!) I don't know why anyone would willingly put themselves through what, to me, seems like a toss-up between creative constipation and flat-out torture.
If you read Stephen King's 'On Writing', he makes a clear argument for why a first draft should essentially be a speed-write. The trick is to get the story down before the story leaks out your ears, because yes, it will run away from you. Spending too much time on a first draft is a quick way to never finishing it. Spending four years on a project, whether you're writing or revising, is a half-baked way of writing anything. But I'll give it one thing: it's damn efficient at getting you nowhere. (The old me has a knack for mic drops. Boom goes the dynamite. That’s what the kids sa—oh, screw it.)
It's been a year since I had my kiddo. Within that year, I’ve edited a full-length novel and published it. I’ve also written and edited two short stories which will be published before the end of the year. I’d say that’s a pretty decent track record for a first-time mom, right? The old me would give the current me a hearty pat on the back. Because at least it hasn’t been four years…
Now Available on Amazon