Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Sharon Wildwind

I've been away.

Since my last book, Soldier on the Porch, was pubished two years ago, I’ve been living through a writing hiatus. Something like actors “resting” between parts, though not exactly like that.

I've discovered three things about myself as a writer in the past two years.

First, I am not a short-story writer. I tried to think of stories that I could turn out quikly, as a side line while working on the next book, but every time new characters and sub-plots twisted themselves into a complicated story that could only be done justice by a book-length format. I never finished a single short story. The good news is I have several great ideas for new books.

The second thing I discovered is that I sort of folded as a writer and sort of didn't. A long time ago, when I took a business class, the instructor said to start out spending 60% of your available time on the business of running the business and 40% of your time on turning out the product (also known as “the book). The only scientific rationale he had for that was that keeping the business going is likely to take more time and energy than turning out the product. Every year, for eight years, my yearly stats have come in within 1% of the 60%/40% split.

This is not something I do consciously. I work on what needs to be done, jot down notes about what I do in a day timer, and add the numbers up once a month. Some years, around August, the year looks so skewed that I think this will be the year that can’t possibly balance out. Some kind of magic happens between Labor Day and the end of the year because, sure enough, by December 31, the numbers are right where they should be.

Even though the percentages continued to look good, what didn't look so good was a decline in the total number of hours. The decline was insidious: a small decease one month, another small decrease the next month and by the end of the 2008, the total number of hours I'd devoted to keeping on keeping on was down further than I wanted them to be.

I think it was akin to the my-term-paper-isn't-due-until-May syndrome. Remember when a teacher assigned a big project and told us we had all year to work on it? I'd start with the best of intentions in September, peter out by Thanksgiving, ignore it completely over Christmas break, almost panic in January—ah, it's still four months away, why worry—and then rush to finish in the two weeks before I had to hand something in.

I knew I had to write another book and that finishing that next book sooner rather than later would be a good thing. I started it with the best of intentions and peered out.

It's a year and nine months before the next book is out, I have time.

There's this other project I want to work on.

I've been writing awfully hard, maybe I should do art for a while. This is the kind of thing I was doing when I probably should have been writing.

I'm going to sleep in this morning. I can still spend an hour on the book instead of the three hours that I'd planned, but what the heck, I have lots of time.

The upshot was that I arrived at the day last month when Missing, Presumed Wed came out, the next book wasn't finished. Close, very close, but not done. I’m not exactly proud of that. What I have learned is that I have to build some personal motivation into the process; that I can’t rely solely on external deadlines to get things done.

However, the third thing I learned was that my being a writer didn't peter out into nothingness. I might have been putting in fewer hours each day, but I was still writing and running a business. I kept up with what was going on in the mystery world. I learned new things about writing and marketing. I wrote a business plan and achieved most of the things I'd set out to do. I made new writing friends. I explored new markets and new social sites. I wrote two drafts of a book, and a lot of blogs, a reasonable number of book reviews, and some critiques, and took a bunch of notes for all of those short stories that want to grow up to be novels.

In the words of one of my favorite characters from childhood television, Major Seth Adams, “Wagons, Ho.”

I'd better get started again. I still have a lot of territory to cover.

Since our Canadian Thanksgiving will have come and gone by the time I blog again, I want to wish everyone north of the border a Happy Thanksgiving next Monday. For those of you south of the border, I recommend you have a pie tasting day on Monday. It’s never too early to sample pumpkin pie.

Quote for the week:
Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.
~William James, American psychologist, philosopher, and writer (1842 – 1910)


Realtor from Toronto said...

Hi. I really believe that being a writer is not an easy job. The worst thing must be when you don't have inspiration. I remember my school days when we had to write essays. Sometimes it was pretty easy and sometimes it seemed impossible to write one sentence. However, I like reading and I was just thinking what to read next. I had a period of classical literature and now it needs something else and this blog gave me some inspiration.

Take care,

Lonnie Cruse said...

Your struggles sure didn't show on the outside, Sharon! But I firmly believe that when we think we aren't writing, ideas are bubbling in the back of our minds, much like soup on the back burner. Not ready for supper yet, but getting there. Sometimes we need a break. You are one of the best writers around, and I admire your talent.

Anonymous said...

I love the people who say, "I have a terrific book idea, but I never find time to write it."

I think, "Sister, you don't know the half of it."

I can't even use chocolate as an incentive since I'm allergic to it. Talk about having to find internal motivation.

Sandra Parshall said...

Ah, the old "I have plenty of time; no need to hurry" self-delusion. I know it well. It traps me every time, and I end up frantically rushing to get the job done at the last minute. Like Lonnie, I believe we're always writing, but unfortunately the only thing that counts is a finished manuscript. No one has ever offered me money for my thoughts--not even a penny. :-)