Sunday, 10 August 2008

Longish taking stock

Giving thought to my career. (This is a Novel-Racers-specific variation on a post I made to my Live Journal the other day.

My income from writing in 2007 made up 10% of our family's total income. So far in 2008 I have earned (cash in hand, not accounts receivable) less than $500. (The good news is, that is not 10% of our total income.) The reason for this difference was my decision not to write work-for-hire during the first six months of the year. This was a big decision since all of my published writing to date has been media or game tie-in work for hire.

My intention when I made the decision to write all original was to complete two original novels by June 30. One was a contemporary mystery at a projected 90,000 words and a 120,000-word romantic suspense. I based this production goal on the 97 days it took me to write Wolf Hunters (93,000 words) and the 108 days it took me to write To Ride the Chimera (97,000 words -- and a week of that was trimming it down to 97k from 104k). I know that adds up to 215 days, not 182, but I wanted to push myself. I failed to complete either novel. Or the third I started for no particular reason.

Two factors worked against me through those six months. The first was my new job (begun in September of 2007) which requires 50-55 hours a week. The second, and far more telling, was that with original fiction I had no hard deadline -- as in deadline set by an editor who knew book rescuers who could finish the project if I didn't deliver. (Part of my writing income or 2007 was rescuing someone else's project; my name appeared only on the cheque.)

Without that hard deadline -- that fear factor -- I was lazy; too willing to accept my own excuses for not writing. I watched too much TV, pretending it was quality time with my family. And I believed my own lie when I told myself the problem was my job taking up my time/energy. Proof that this was a lie happened last week: I was asked to produce 2 short stories -- 2 "chapters" in a set of 9 interlocking stories which illustrate possible adventures in a new role-playing game manual. One of the two was an after-deadline rescue. I wrote two 3,000 word stories in two two-day stints during the work week -- before and after full days at work.

So I can write with a gun to my head. And with the promise of a paycheque at the end.
Currently I have 11 projects I think of as "active." Way too many. I prefer to write one thing at a time, but I can balance two to four writing projects when I have to. Having 11 "open" pretty well indicates I'm not focused. That alone cripples my productivity.

Of these 11, only four are not work-for-hire (three partially written novels and one short story still in the brainstorming stage). Of my write for hire projects, only two have any semblance of a deadline. The first is a serial which should top out at 27-30k -- the third in a series which traditionally launches in November. The other is in a new market for me and the editor has asked me to rewrite the treatment before okaying the complete story. Once she does that I'll have an as-yet-unspecified number of weeks to deliver. Of the rest two are redrafts -- ground-up retellings of stories I wrote but did not send because I like the idea, but the execution didn't work) and two are only narrative outlines with character/setting notes at this point. These deadline-free stories are all with an online market that publishes new stories every week. The pitches -- one-paragraph high-concept summaries -- have all been accepted but the publisher's schedule is free enough that they can plug them in whenever they want.

So where am I going with my writing?
Well, I'm going to finish the two redrafts, the original short story, and the new market work-for-hire over the next six weeks. In the second half of September I'll complete the serial. In October I'll assess where I am and decide what I'm going to do next.

I'll keep you posted.


DOT said...

I have recently posted a comment that reflects on your dilemma.

What you need is a gentle dominatrix! Someone who prioritises your work, set deadlines, chases, encourages, exhorts and, occasionally, scowls, leaving you to concentrate on what you do best, i.e. write.

liz fenwick said...

Hey, dot where do you find one?

Seriously, Kevin you have a hell of a lot on your plate. I set deadlines for myself - it is the only way i can push through. But I also am limiting myself to working on only one project. I am absolutely desperate to begin the next book but if I give into that I will not finish the editing of the current one and therefore will have nothing to push out to the market. Having that desire to begin the new story pushes me through the bits I don't like.

Good luck!

Flowerpot said...

Yes good luck Kevin. My head's spinning just thinking about all your projects. I am writing journalism and editing a novel while waiting to hear back from an agent about the last one. I suspect that will be a No in which case I will have to decide wehter to retire it or edit it more and then send it out again. But really that's 2 things on the go - I couldn't cope with more. Best of luck!

Annieye said...

I sometimes write in the library at lunchtimes, but generally find I have to get up really early to get some quality writing time while I'm still fresh.

I 'tinker' about in the evenings, but then the tv sneaks up on me and swipes my attention when I'm least expecting it!

Seriously though, I know how hard it is to fit in writing time when you have a full-time job, but at the end of the day we wouldn't do it if we didn't love it, would we?

Debs said...

I focus on a couple of things at a time with my writing, for example, the novel I'm working on, writing course, and short stories. I definately work better to a deadline and set them for myself.

You have so much on at the moment, far more than I would be able to contend with at one time, I'm sure.

Calistro said...

I only work efficiently to deadlines too - whether self-imposed or otherwise. Last year I told myself I wanted to finish my novel within 4 months as I'd previously abandoned my only other novel attempted and wanted to prove to myself that I could finish a novel. I did. This year, because I'd already proved to myself that I could finish a novel, I've felt no such impetus.

My womag story group, however, really works for me as we've got a fortnightly deadline and if you don't write a story you don't get a critique and you get a dash instead of a cross in the 'Did you write a story a fortnight?' grid (a bit like gold stars at school!).


Your post has inspired me. I want to write at least a novel a year. So now I'm going to do my damnest to finish novel #3 by the end of the year. That only gives me 4 months from 1st September but if I want it enough I can do it. I also need to be passionate about the novel (which is something I've explored in my recent blog posts).

Anonymous said...

Welcome to my world! Eleven projects, eh? I thought I was bad in trying to juggle eight. One trick I now use, is to have what I call "sprints". You focus on one project for a one or two week period, then rotate and move onto others. This allows you to get sufficient immersion in the projects, but hopefully not neglect any of them. Of course, hard deadlines, or even self-imposed ones, can throw out the plan slightly. It's fairly easy to readjust though.

You have an interesting mix of work and play, where your writing is concerned, so why not treat it as such? Treat the paid writing as work, with its associated disciplines. Then write your other material for fun (with any publications being an added bonus). Don't mean to preach to the converted, if this is what you already do. Just an idea.

Good luck with all of your endeavours.

ChrisH said...

Nope. Can't see much evidence of bumming around being lazy! Actually, I do know what you mean about the 'gun to head' thing only in my case I really have been bumming around - unlike you. I suppose I'd better get on with it having read what you're up to.