Writing — Facing the Mountain

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Misty is enjoying the sun-drenched beaches of Somewhere, USA, so I’m filling in for this week’s post.

Last week, we did a lot of posting leading up to ConCarolinas — things to do or say, things not to do or say, networking tips, etc.  Here we are on the other end, and for me, that means new work.  See in the last few years, my networking efforts and my published short stories have met each other with a pleasant-sounding smash.  The result — more and more I’m being invited into anthologies and opportunities that before were off-limits to me.  The last four cons I’ve attended have resulted in work and I couldn’t be happier about it.

The hard thing, though, the thing I want to discuss today, is how to deal with the work.  I decided I should make a list of what writing work I’ve agreed to do, so I don’t accidentally let something slip by.  Well, there are four short stories I need to write, an audio reading I need to record and edit, and an anthology I’ll be co-editing.  Oh, and I still have to finish my WIP.  Plus, there’s all the regular work like blogging, podcasting, and promoting Rum and Runestones.  Plus, there are a few things that are in the works which I can’t officially mention.  In other words, I’m at the bottom of a steep mountain, looking up and wondering just how far into the clouds the summit reaches.

For me, a pile of work is always a mountain.  It looms over me, laughing at me with its sheer size, daring me to climb and promising me I will fail.  In fact, the only way I can overcome the weight of all this is to remember the ancient idea concerning a thousand-mile journey and the single step one must take to get going.  In a writer’s case, those steps are measured in words and sentences.

I’ve tried juggling writing projects, but it never clicks for me.  I can’t focus on the short story on Monday, the novel on Tuesday, blog post on Wednesday, etc, etc.  My brain wants to stay on one story, one set of characters, one set of problems.  I have to trudge through each single step — no running around for me.  So I prioritize based on deadlines and take each piece one at a time.  Then, it’s the classic advice — BIC, Butt In Chair.

Because that’s the truth, down and dirty.  We can post forever about technique, advice, helpful hints, and harsh realities.  In the end, it’s all worthless if you don’t sit down and write something.  Write a sentence.  Let it lead you to a paragraph.  From there you’ll get that page down.  Then another.  And another.  Another.  Soon you’ll finish a story or a chapter of a longer piece.  Step by step until it’s done.

Then you can stop for a moment.  Take a breath of fresh mountain air.  Glance back at the place you started and note how small it looks from up here.  Dare yourself to glance upward.  Yeesh!  There’s still half-a-mountain to go.  Revisions.  Queries.  Submissions.  That’s all to come.  Contracts, publishing, networking, and promoting.  And then cruel irony — they send you to the bottom of a new mountain and make you climb again.

So, that’s were I stand.  The mountain awaits.  Step by step.  It’s the only way I’ve learned to get the work done.  Luckily, I’m wearing my hiking boots.

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17 comments to Writing — Facing the Mountain

  • Your post came at the perfect time for me. I’ve always tried to tackle different parts of the mountain at the same time, and I fail. I find myself having to work on one thing at a time. I’ve tried to revise one thing and work on the first draft of another. I have a hard time with that. And when I stare up the mountain, sometimes I end up doing nothing rather than just tackle one part of it.

    Thank you for the timely(at least for me) post, I’ll start taking it step by step!

  • Thank you Stuart. BTW, it was wonderful to see you at CC, to remember faces and conversations and blogs and put them all back together again. For those of us with brains that don’t store pictures (faces) properly, it is like meeting an old friend for the first time again and again.

    Back to your mountain. Oy. For me today, it is more like the vision of the Emerald City far in the distance, and I am standing on an inked-brick road.

    Books and short stories and rewrites. Oh my…
    Time to take that first step.

  • Thanks for the reminder. I guess it’s a good thing I like hiking!

    One thing I would add, from my personal experience, is to not spend too much time a) looking back at how far you’ve come or b) in between mountains. It makes the next climb harder than it should be.

  • Alistair — Glad to help. I’m always amazed at people who can juggle writing projects. It’s one thing to multi-task mundane things — check e-mail, pay the bills, and get water boiling for lunch. I can do that. But with writing, I’ve got to go one at a time. Nice to know I’ve got others in the same boat as me (or I should say on the same mountain)!

    Faith — <> I love that. I see a writer, stained like a Rorschach blot, looking in the distance at a glowing green light.

    Moira — You are right. It’s okay to peek back at what’ve you done, but don’t dwell on it or else you’ll be just as stuck as you were at the base of the mountain. Man, I wish today’s weather were better — I want to go do some real hiking now. :)

  • This is great advice, and I think equally helpful for tackling that first book. Writing an entire book (!) is daunting; writing a chapter far less so. I decided long ago that when I’m in the midst of the process I’m not writing a book. I’m just writing a series of chapters. Ascending smaller peaks that will eventually get me to the top of the big one, as it were.

    Great seeing you, Stuart. I wish we’d had more time, but great nevertheless.

  • Beatriz

    Thanks for sharing this, Stuart. I thought I was the only one on the planet who focuses on one project at a time. It’s nice to know that this is how some of the pros work, too.

    Enjoy the climb and please don’t forget to admire the view once in a while along the way!

  • Beatriz — Y’know, before the computer, I suspect most people did things one at a time and it was the multi-taskers who were the oddballs.

    David — Yeah, a few hours a year just doesn’t seem to be enough. We’ll have to figure out a way to rectify that situation. In the meantime…I like your method of dealing with daunting work — just look a few steps in front of you. There is no mountain.

  • Sarah

    Thanks Stuart – as I type this I’m staring at the whiteboard list of projects and deadlines in front of me. Sadly, only one of them is creative writing. The rest are other work related. But your advice applies just the same. When I try to do all of them at once I end up with half a dozen unfinished projects and the only thing that gets done is the thing that will get me fired if I miss it. If I allow myself to work on one project at a time I start to clear the list. One other thing I’ve learned is to actually clear the list. There’s a point at which I have to say NO to whatever new project/idea/opportunity comes along just because I’m over tasked already. Otherwise everything gets done halfway and I’m unhappy with all of it.

  • Good advice, Stuart. An hour ago I sent my editor in which I blithely suggested that we try to release a novel 6 months earlier than planned. Crazy, of course. But I agree with the adage that work expands to fill the time allotted to it, the flipside of which is that the more you take on, the more you somehow find time for. The mountain gets bigger, but you still find a way to reach the summit if–as you say–you lace up your boots and get walking.

  • Sarah — I agree 100%. Learning to say “No” is another whole skill we all should learn.

    AJ — That does sound crazy, though I’m sure you have your reasons. And yes, somehow we make it work. I’m already pumping out more words per day than I usually have in the past. I’ve no doubt total fear of all that I agreed to do is prompting this sudden burst in productivity.

  • Ryl

    Stuart, I’m chiming in with others in saying thanks for reminder. It *is* a mountain of work in front of me — but I want to see the view from its summit, so I keep climbing.

  • Well said, Stuart. I had a similar conversation about a year ago with a writer who was also an actual mountain climber. He added that each peak you finally do summit shows that there are always higher mountains, but that without the strength and skills you gain on the first one, you’d not have what it takes to tackle the second, ect, etc.

    Keep climbing.

  • Bill Hause

    Very timely post for me also. I am working on a novel that is due for a contest December 7th and a short story idea is now begging to be written. I have tried to put down some notes and put my bic towards the novel. Thanks for the reassurance. Also, I am sorry that I did not get to meet you at the con. Back to the novel…

  • Ryl and Bill — Glad the post helps you both. It’s helping me to see just how many of you all feel the same. :) And Bill, I’m sure will get to meet some time. The nice thing about this business is we all eventually bump into each other.

    Edmund — Excellent addition. Nobody jumps in a master of anything. It takes hard work and many years of practice, practice, and more practice. And for us, that means writing.

  • Stuart, good luck with your mountain. In a way, I can’t wait to have that problem. It’s tough to stay motivated sometimes when all my deadlines are self-imposed. It’s too easy to push a deadline back and make an excuse when there isn’t an agent or editor waiting for the material. I also have problems creating realistic deadlines given that I’m still new to the process. When I was first setting revision goals, I gave considerably too little time to edit chapters that needed to be completely redone. I suppose those realistic goals come with experience.

    When this trip is over, I’m going to finish my lingering first draft and work out a to-do list. It’ll probably be more like a molehill compared to your mountain, but it’s mine, all mine.

    Cheers,
    NGD in China

  • With diligence and a bit of luck I’ll get to within a third of the way of the top this year. At least what I call within a third. Still need to finish the rewrites, find an agent, work their rewrites, find an editor, work their rewrites, etc. Either way, I’ve gotten farther than I’ve ever gone before. Still a tough climb yet to go, but I’m ready. 😀

  • NGD — There’s no doubt that having a deadline from outside makes a difference. I’ve spent years writing on spec and I still write plenty on spec. I’ve never had this much deadlined writing to do before but it is a great motivator. And because I’m determined to finish my novel WIP which is on spec, I’m using that mountain of real deadlines to push me into finishing the WIP first. As for allotting proper amounts of time — you will get better at it over time.

    Daniel — Good luck! And remember, just look at it one step at a time. Finish your rewrites. That’s all you have to worry about first.