Thursday, February 10, 2011

Here's Hoping All These Words Will Matter

When the crowd at Books & Books asked Lane Smith about his process, Lane said it took him ten years to finish John, Paul, George, and Ben.  He works on a lot of things at once.  It takes time to finish a project, time to store it and forget about it, then time to revise with objectivity that only comes from distance.  Meanwhile, he’d visit Mo Willems in his studio nearby.
“'How’s it going, Lane?'”  Smith said, pantomiming a frantic Mo drawing at break-neck speed.  “'I just finished five books this morning.'”
Even if I make enough money that I could quit my job and write full time (and part of me still harbors that fantasy, that my first book will be successful enough that I could be nothing but a writer), clearly I’d fall into the Lane Smith category.  I’ll never be a novel-a-year guy.  
I’d like to think that means I’m about quality, like David Mitchell or Nicole Krauss, but honestly it’s more about attention span.  I’ve already entertained myself in my mind with this story half a dozen times before I sit down to write it.  I know exactly how it will end (well, 90% of exactly) and sometimes getting there just doesn’t interest me.   
I think I’ve found a solution; I’m writing two books at once.  On Mondays I work on The Block.  Tuesdays, the last morning Dylan is with his father, I take the opportunity to sleep in.  Wednesdays, it’s Scratch the Dead Places.  Thursdays, The Block again, Fridays, Scratch again.  The weekends are reserved for whichever one has compelled me less during the week.  When a story is shouting in your head to get out, all you need is a couple hours in the morning to keep it fresh.  If the pump needs more priming, then you’ve got a problem to work out.  You need a solid chunk of weekend time.  
More often lately, I’ve been lazy about my other writing during the week (if lazy can be described as work, cooking dinner, doing dishes, reading, or sharing time with Becky), and I need to spend the weekend on next week’s SwF&F posts, or my monthly book missive for THL, or something Lip Service will hopefully choose for a future event, or a piece for DadsMiami, or whatever I hope someone will publish to increase my profile.  
  I’m enjoying the process, but I wonder if I should push myself harder.  It’s one thing reading four books at once, but working on all these stories at the same time means I hardly move.  I only finished the first draft of my first book because I gave myself a deadline.  Should I do that again?
It feels so early in the process of both books to be worrying about this (even though Scratch is a third draft and The Block a second), but at the same time, I worry about getting older with nothing to show for my work.  Part of me is content to push the cursor a few inches a day, knowing the end will come eventually.  As Sugar says, “Your book has a birthday.  You  don’t know what it is yet.” 
Another part worries the end of me will come before my career ever starts.  


  1. Is your question about whether or not to set deadlines rhetorical or up for debate by your loyal readers? Well, here's my two cents, solicited or un... I think some deadlines would be a good idea. Reasonable deadlines. Not deadlines that would stress you out, or compromise the quality of the work, or keep you from spending time with Becky (or your amazing best friend). But I think having a timeline would give you something to work toward and give you a sense of accomplishment when you meet you goals.

  2. All questions here at Sweet are up for debate.

    I think that's exactly what I'm missing in my fiction - a sense of accomplishment. I get feedback all the time on writing I do for public consumption, which makes it easy to neglect the stuff I write in secret.

    Hmm... now I have to think of a realistic, yet challenging goal.

    Dank für Messwert.