Saturday, January 12, 2013

Making it Up as I Go

One of the best parts of sabbatical is (was) having time to think, and part of that thinking process is learning about yourself. Considering where you are, where you want to be, how you get there. That sounds like an ad for investing in a retirement fund, but I'm thinking more philosophically. Although in a way, that too is an investment in a kind of retirement fund.

Part of the learning takes place after sabbatical ends and you go back to the real world. Because sabbatical is a kind of lovely bubble. Even the sort of sabbatical I had where I was basically working but not writing. The writing is the hard part. The rest of it is tiring and time-consuming, but it's not like writing. Writing is brutal. Like any art. Like any craft. Like any serious grown up job.

So I ended sabbatical on a very positive note -- I mean, what could be better than winding up with Christmas! :-)  And I put together a very ambitious game plan for 2013. Eight projects, not counting all the print compliations and audio books I have planned.

The first thing I realized was attaching deadlines to ANYTHING creative immediately triggered that familiar response of racing heartbeat and churning thoughts. Can I speed this up, how will I make these dates, should I fit something else in, Why am I writing so slowly...?

Not good.

This is how I got into trouble in the first place.

Add to that the fact that all the sabbatical time in the world doesn't change that I still find a rough draft hard work. Understatement. I find it a brutal, bitter slog. I HATE writing first drafts. Hate them with a passion. They are drudgery and they are sloooowwwww going. If I do a thousand words a day on a rough draft, I'm feeling pretty good about myself.

But do the math. At a thousand words a day...well, never mind. Don't do the math because the slow pace is only on that first exhausting, wrenching lap. After that's over and I have a day or two to catch my breath, the edits and revisions start and that's when it all speeds up and the mess of halting words and clumsy phrases turns into a story that makes sense and flows along, carrying me (and eventually a reader) with it.

But the first lesson of sabbatical is to accept that the first draft is still as ugly and painful as ever. As it should be, frankly.  And the second lesson is to not attach deadlines to anything. I'm finding myself skipping around from project to project. Jotting down notes here, outlining a bit there, writing more on this monster in front of me (that would be Blood Red Butterfly at the moment). I haven't worked in this erratic fashion in years, but I'm going with it, allowing it to happen and seeing what it produces. Which I suppose is yet another result of taking a year off.

Anyway, if you haven't seen it yet, the full list of what I have planned for 2013 is here.


  1. Congratulations on such an ambitious list for 2013, Josh. Reader anticipation will be at an all-time high. You do seem to have gained valuable insights while on sabbatical and I hope they are put to good use as you work through these many projects. However it goes just be sure you never lose sight of the physical as well as the mental — be sure to take of your wrists! :)

  2. Yes! Very conscious of staying pain free. Pain is a great incentive for staying smart.

    I'm trying to figure out if writing four days a week and using Friday for blogs and business might spare my wrists a bit.

  3. You know, right now, you're skipping around all willy nilly, but you're working. Eventually, you're going to have good portions of lots of different projects done. Who cares about deadlines. You're working. A year ago, that was inconceivable. Be proud, be happy. We'll be here when those ugly first drafts turned into something glorious. They will. So take your time and get back in the swing of things, but if you could see your way clear to work on Kick Start from time to time, I'd really appreciate it. :-) Kidding, I kid! But not really.

    1. I spent last night researching both Winter Kill and Kick Start -- a lot of crossover regarding location there. I do not forget the boys!

  4. There's nothing wrong with skipping around from project to project. At some point, one of them will call to you and you'll finish it in one fell swoop. Speaking as someone who writes in a loop-de-loop fashion, you have to learn to let go of the control again and get back to enjoying the storytelling. My fatal flaw :P

    Good luck in 2013 and I'm looking forward to reading whatever stories insist on being finished.

    1. I think so! I think it's a way of keeping everything fresh and interesting. I do have to spend less time typing on the weekends though. It's hard to break that habit! ;-)

  5. Always like reading about the writing process. You hate first drafts and another author I follow loves leaping into that but has to be hogtied into starting on editing and revisions. I like the clean-up work, although there's the element of 'what the hell was I thinking?' As always, looking forward to what comes next--whether you stick to your 2013 schedule or not.

    1. Thanks, Christie.

      I remember when I was a youngish writer and I would read much-published writers talking about how slowly they wrote. I would think HA! You just don't feel the passion for the work anymore.

      But it's not that. After you've been multi-published for a few years, you become very conscious of the fact that you've, well, said everything already! ;-)

      All your first ideas, that stuff that poured out, are now gone and you're having to dig longer, deeper -- whether it be single words usage to metaphors to plots and themes -- to keep it fresh.

      And even then you'll fall back on the same old stuff -- because our brains work a certain way. That's both good and, I guess, bad.

      Either way, it is the inevitable result of publishing over a long period of time.

      So I wonder if this is a concern now, will it be a concern ten years from now? Or will I decide it doesn't matter anyway?

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    1. I think the massage therapy has been crucial in getting my wrists back to where I can work again. No chance of my forgetting about that!

      I think what's happening is me figuring out how I am going to work -- and live -- moving forward. Because sabbatical, while wonderful, isn't realistic. I guess I thought this would all be figured out magically by the time I returned to work, I still have to figure out what will work moving forward.


      It's all about the balance.

  7. I'm glad to see you back in the saddle again. I've been saving all my pennies for this year JL reads. Last year has been a bit of a drought in m/m books. When you said that you were reducing your writing time, I was thinking I hope he'll have at least 1 or 2 titles for this year which is still good. Then I read your list and boom there it is a list of 8 titles. As a fan, I am so happy that you are so prolific. If it was any other writer, it would have been nothing this year maybe a book out next year. As a Fanyon, I'm totally psyched about this year read list.

    Oh, don't forget the massage therapy sessions for Fridays as well. Have you thought about using a voice activated programs to type out your stories on the computer to save on CT? If nothing else, it would already be on screen and you can start editing the non essentials. I also wonder if it change the way a writer writes when s/he is telling the story vs. typing it out straight from your mind.

    Actually, I know a few writers who write like that. They will have 2 or 3 stories that they are working on at the same time. If they hit writer's block or get bored with one story line, they would just switch to another story to work on. End result is still the same, a really great story. It'll be interesting to see which one you finished first.

    Anyway, I hope you will have a great writing year and please schedule time everyday to relax too.

  8. Sorry, Josh. I was laughing as I was reading your description of the, 'first draft.' The painfulness, the messiness. (I think you said, ugliness) It sounds like giving birth, which of course, it is. Whether a baby or an idea, they both need time to develop, and they usually arrive on their own schedule. Remember that and be kind to yourself. It might be fun marking those eight blessed events on the calendar, but I think we all know everything good is worth the wait. :)

    1. It's true that pushing only takes you so far -- and it changes the outcome from what a more natural, er, production would be.

      Interesting thought...