Dog days. It’s ninety-two degrees. It’s mid-summer (at least it is for those of us who live in school districts that end the academic year in May and start it back up in August). You would much rather be doing just about anything else other than working. The Women’s World Cup is on the tube, your kids are bugging you to go to the local water park (which sounds incredibly inviting), and there is a six-pack of beer in the fridge, not to mention that bottle of Marlborough region Sauvignon Blanc hanging out in the refrigerator door. Writing or revising a book is pretty much the last thing you want to do.
Any of this sounding familiar?
It certainly sounds familiar to me. I think that has been the story of my last seven or ten or fifteen summers. But this year has been different. I have been having the most productive summer of mycareer. I don’t know if anything is going to come of all the work I’m doing, but I am writing anyway, and actually, despite that opening paragraph, I’m having a blast doing it. Why is this summer so unlike previous ones?
Part of it is that I’ve been more fixated on the butt-in-chair mantra this year than ever before. I am making myself sit down and work each day, and I’m not getting up until I hit my word counts. But I try to do that every year. This year I’m actually doing it. And I think the reason it’s working is that I have managed to keep my work feeling fresh, new, exciting. How?
First, I am challenging myself in ways I never have before. Aside from the Thieftaker books, which are written but not out yet (less than 10 months and counting!!) I don’t have any books under contract right now. I am not obligated to write anything; or, to put it another way, I can write whatever the hell I want. That’s a double-edged sword. Thieftaker was a stretch for me — I had never written historical fantasy before. And one of the reasons I love the book so much is that I feel that I rose to a challenge. So I have tried to replicate that experience. Since finishing the second Thieftaker novel, I have written a middle-reader book — the first I’d ever attempted; and I have also written a contemporary fantasy that draws on Celtic mythology. I’d never done that before. I believe that by forcing myself to take chances, by refusing to climb back into my artistic comfort zone (Medieval, alternate world, epic fantasy anyone?) I am making each day of work an adventure. At times it’s scary, and as I say, it may be that I’ll never sell these books. Maybe they’re so much of a stretch that they suck. That’s definitely a possibility. But I look forward to writing and/or revising every morning. I can’t wait to get to work.
Second, I am changing up my projects on a regular basis, spending no more than two or three consecutive months on any given book. Part of this is following A.J.’s example of writing fast. I don’t like the idea of abandoning a project in the middle. I want to finish one thing before I move on. And the only way to do that is to get stuff written quickly. The book I just finished came in at almost exactly 100,000 words. I wrote it in less than three months, finishing it two Fridays ago. The following Monday I was back to the middle reader book working on revisions. So far this year I have written a short story with Stuart, taken a month to work on the D.B. Jackson web site (http://www.dbjackson-author.com), written the middle reader book, written the contemporary fantasy, and started revisions on the middle reader book. I finish one project and immediately move on to the next. Nothing gets stale, nothing feels routine. No ruts here. I am rutless, and happy as can be because of it.
Third, while I have been working my tail off, and taking great care to hit my word counts (or, when revising, to get to a certain page in the manuscript) I am also doing stuff for myself and taking time to do family things. I have been maintaining my exercise regimin, seeing friends, enjoying the occasional nice day. I have also managed to maintain some web presence and take care of a few business issues on the side. I’ve taken a couple of hours to watch the occasional soccer match; I’ve gone to my daughters’ swim meets. In other words, I have refused to let my work get in the way of my life. Summer can be a productive time, but it also needs to be a relaxing time. We’ll be going away a bit later this summer and my current plan is not to bring along any work at all.
It’s a fairly simple formula really, and not one that is all that original: push yourself to try new stuff, change up the work routine, take time for yourself. Nothing there that will come as a shock to any of you. And yet, I’ve been doing this professionally for fifteen years, and year in and year out, that simple approach has escaped me. Of all the “Back to Basics” that I’ve done thus far, this one might be the most basic. It also might be the most important. We often point out that writing is hard. We work in isolation, often for months or even years at a time, trying to finish that novel we’ve been battling for God-knows-how-long. And those damn people at Magical Words are always saying “Keep working — you’re not a writer until you finish something” and “Don’t stop in the middle, because writing is all about momentum.” I can go back and find you all the posts I’ve written in which I’ve said those things. There are a ton of them. And I’ve meant these things each time I’ve written them. But maybe it’s time to revise those bits of advice just a little.
Because sometimes you do need a change of pace. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your novel is to NOT write it for a day, or a week, or even a couple of weeks. Change things up a little. Write a short story. Outline the next thing you want to write. Or don’t write at all. Instead, do something nice for yourself or spend the day with a friend, your kid, your spouse.
Yes, you want to finish the thing. But you also want to keep it fresh. Because you don’t want to write a stale novel, and your readers don’t want to read one.
So, how do you keep it fresh?David B. Coe http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net