A Kick in the Pants


I am languishing.

The Dark-Eyes' War, book III of Blood of the Southlands (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)

The Dark-Eyes' War, book III of Blood of the Southlands (jacket art by Romas Kukalis)

I have several projects in various stages of completion right now.  The third and final book in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy, The Dark-Eyes War, will be out in February, and while I’m in the process of updating my webpage to include chapters from the book and other information on it, I am also waiting for that publication date.  It’s sort of close, but not close enough that I can really do much about publicizing the release right now.  (But while we’re on the subject, here is the cover art!)  I have another book (my New Shiny from earlier this year) that is complete.  In fact, I’m about 70 pages into the second book of the series.  But the book isn’t contracted yet and I’m waiting to see if I might be better off rewriting the book (and re-conceiving the series) as a historical fantasy.  A lot will depend on the business negotiations.  So I’m kind of in limbo with that one right now.  I have a third book, an extensive rewrite about which I posted during the summer.  That book is finished as well, and is now with my agent and with an editor who expressed interest in seeing it.  There’s really nothing I can do with that one for now except wait for feedback from both readers.  And I have my new New Shiny, which has me intrigued, but which is really not ready to be written yet.  It’s still in the early planning stages, and, frankly, if it turns out that I need to rewrite the first New Shiny, or if I need to do extensive revisions on the third book that I mentioned, those projects will take precedence.

The upshot is that I don’t know what to do with myself right now.  I have web work to do to begin the publicizing of The Dark-Eyes’ War, and that will keep me busy for a couple of days.  I can play around with the new New Shiny, as I have been for a couple of weeks now.  But while the first eight months of this year were incredibly productive, the last month and a half have been frustrating and slow.  It’s not that I’m getting nothing done, but rather that I haven’t been able to focus on any one project enough to feel that I’m accomplishing anything substantive.  Yes, it sounds like I’m whining.  Maybe I am whining.  But when it comes right down to it, I am much happier when I have a project going, when I’m making steady daily progress.

Writers at all levels go through this periodically.  We’re not always as productive as we want to be.  I know that I’ve been in this place before — a creative doldrums, in a way.   And I also know that the only way out of this is to give myself a kick in the butt and get back to work.  So that, ultimately, is what this post is about.  This is my very public kick in the pants.  I am languishing because I don’t know what to do next.  But I’m also languishing because I’m frustrated by the business side of things and because I’ve lost focus and direction.  Understandable?  Yeah, sure.  To be expected?  Maybe.  But is this the way I want to finish off my year?  Not at all.

“Butt in chair” means more than just sitting down at the computer and working every day.  I do that — I sit down to work each morning.  It’s part of my routine, and there is some power in that.  But BIC also has to mean more than that — for me, it also has to imply a commitment to move past the frustrations that come with being a professional writer.  It has to mean that I write despite the uncertainty, despite any crisis of confidence, despite the feeling that I’m just pounding my head against a brick wall.  We at MW tell our readers all the time that this is a tough way to make a living, that to make a writing career work you have to really want it.  Those aren’t just words.  There are all sorts of challenges:  the external ones — difficult markets, critical reviews, production issues — and the internal ones — burn-out, fatigue, self-doubt.  At times, it seems that all those challenges are conspiring to keep me from getting work done.  But  the fact is that I’m lucky as hell to be able to do this for a living  What does it say about me if I allow petty grievances to get in the way of my creative output?  Am I willing to fall victim to that kind of hypocrisy?  No way.

So, with this post, I am pledging to you and to myself that I’m going to throw off this languor and get back to being productive.  I’m not sure yet in which direction I’m going to go — I’ll probably play with the new New Shiny.  But the point is, I’m going to buckle down again.  Starting right now.

David B. Coe

8 comments to A Kick in the Pants

  • April

    The in between time is great time to begin a checklist to keep on hand for future in between times. You’ve covered a number of things: website updated? Contact list updated and in one place? Business plan make sense? Is bookkeeping really up to date? More than two weeks on hand – should you be in some other city for a few days to remind people how charming you are (and maybe get lunch?) Can you write a review of someone else’s work or of a collection or new website? Hone your culinary skills? And yes, write.
    Do not start yard projects if you are married. 🙂

  • I feel your pain! I’m in a similar place–waiting. I have 5 finished novels. One of them is out with several publishers and both my agent and I are waiting for word. If (when!) it gets picked up, it will be my first sale. The novel I finished this summer is begging for a sequel, but writing it on spec when I have no idea if book 1 will sell is probably not a good idea at this stage of the game. I write in several genres and my agent wants to be able to establish a brand identity for me. If a YA book gets picked up first, then I’ll write YA for a bit. If the one she’s shopping doesn’t find a home, then maybe one of the spec fic or fantasy stories will sell, and I would be focusing on that genre.

    I spent several weeks feeling at loose ends and irritable not having a WIP. Then I hit myself upside the head (metaphorically) and decided it didn’t matter what I worked on as long as I was working on something. That’s when the idea for my New Shiny popped into my head.

    In some ways, I realize that I’m in a pretty lucky position–not being under contract means I can still simply write what I love, on the timetable that I choose. If all goes well, I won’t have that freedom again.

    Good luck with moving forward, David. I look forward to what you choose to write next.


  • Dave, sometimes you just need to slack off. Take a bit of time to yourself, rewind, rebuild, rest up. Build up your stores so you can go full bore again.

    Let yourself amble and rove every now and then, in the long run you’ll end up going farther than you would if you constantly floored the accelerator.

  • Dino

    Thanks for sharing the cover.
    Looking forward to February.

  • David said,>> It’s not that I’m getting nothing done, but rather that I haven’t been able to focus on any one project enough to feel that I’m accomplishing anything substantive.>>

    I feel for you, David. I need (need need) deadlines. I’ve learned to depend on them, not just for writing output, but for that more amorphous psychological uplift that says, “I am worth something more (to myself) if I have a deadline.” Which is really stupid in every way.

    I hate the doldrums.
    No advice. Virtual hug. Now, BIC, man.

  • Oops — BTW, GREAT cover!

  • Beatriz

    Excellent cover, David!

    My job often involves project work, and these projects rely on other people getting stuff done before I can move forward on my pieces of the puzzle.

    Some days I’ve got 7 projects out and nothing to work on. I call these days “limbo.”

    I’ve also got a sign on my desk that says “Limbo is a dance; be flexible, get moving!” with a picture of folks attempting to slither beneath a pole. It’s a good reminder that even if 7 things can’t get done right now, I can always flex enough to find something I *can* do today.

    Good luck finding your mojo!

  • Of course, the day I post this I’m inundated with little projects….

    April, that’s terrific advice. Will put making a list of that sort on my list of things to do….

    Thanks very much, Lisa. Your point about having the luxury of flexibility now speaks to the point Catie made in her post last Thursday. You’re right — enjoy that freedom while you can!

    Thank you, Alan. I’m actually pretty good at taking time off and recharging my creative batteries when I need to. I don’t need to right now. I WANT to be working. It’s just a question of what to do with that energy.

    Dino, thanks. I hope you enjoy the book when it comes out.

    Glad you like the cover, Faith. I do, too. I appreciate the virtual hug. I work well under deadline, too. Maybe that’s what’s missing. In which case I should give myself one, as I blogged about last week.

    Thank you, Beatriz. Glad you like the look of the new book. And I like your point about Limbo. I’ll have to keep that motto in mind.