The Business Rusch: Carrots And Sticks
Once upon a time, maybe five years ago, I used to wake up and figure in my head which deadlines I needed to tackle that day. The most critical, the hardest, or the ones with the most cache/money/interest always got put in line first, and then I would build everything else around those.
I had several systems for this, including one on my paper calendar, a different one on my computer calendar, all with reminders and targets and completion dates.
I would divide the project into the amount of work I could do versus the amount of time I had, never pushing too hard, always giving myself time off or down days (necessary, given my chronic health issues). I had a lot of leeway built into the system, but not a lot of time for what the romance writers call “a book of the heart.”
A book of the heart is a book that professional writers write on spec, even if it doesn’t have a market. The book just has to be written. And once upon a time, maybe five years ago, writing such books was dangerous to a writer’s career or at least her livelihood, because there was no guarantee that the book would make it through the gatekeepers.
A book of the heart was a risk in a profession fraught with risk. Once upon a time, maybe five years ago, if a writer didn’t sell a particular book to the traditional publishers, then she didn’t sell that book to readers. Self-publishing was not an option.
Worse, writers were considered as good as their last book. What that means is this: If the last book didn’t sell well—even if it was the publisher’s fault—then the writer often couldn’t sell the next book under the same name. (I dealt with some of this in the blog post on pen names.)
Writers also got paid piecemeal—only a few times per year, and on a rather unpredictable schedule. If the writer sold a book for a five-figure advance, the payout would often be 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on acceptance, and 1/3 on publication. (Six figure advances, depending on size, could be split into four payments or six or eight. The higher the advance, the more payments.)
All of those payments figured into the daily deadline total as well. Dean and I got really good at looking a year out and seeing “holes” in our income—months in which we would have no money at all except our savings which we did not want to touch. (Often we had to touch it, because traditional publishers, while nasty about writers missing their deadlines, are lax about meeting their own payment deadlines. So a payment to us that should have come in, say, August, rarely arrived before the end of September, since folks in NY seem to believe that they live in Europe and deserve the entire month of August off. Yes, this caused us a lot of heartache until we figured it out, and yes, I’m still annoyed by it.)
Every month, every week, sometimes every day, I had to redo the deadline calculation in my head as I woke up every morning. Part of that included a check-in to see how I was feeling and whether or not I could work, part of it was just a review of what I had known when I went to sleep, and all of it had a little tinge of anxiety.
Anyone who has held a job understands that anxiety. Most people have fifty things to do after the alarm goes off and before the commute. The timing from wake-up to transportation to work arrival is a delicate balancing act, all perfectly coordinated to get the maximum effort out of the minimum amount of time.
Once in a while, an employee can arrive late. Arrive late every day for a week, and someone will ask what’s wrong. Arrive late for ten days, and get put on notice. Arrive late for two weeks and before the employee even arrives, the bosses/managers will have had this discussion: Is she worth this chronic lateness? It sends a bad message to everyone else. Can we make her arrive earlier? Or should we just cut her loose?
Everyone who has worked a job knows that calculus. Everyone who has worked a job has also been late for one reason or another—from an accident on the interstate (which, in the days before cell phones, was particularly fraught) to a medical emergency with the five-year-old (can I get the marble out of her nose or do I have to take her to the doctor after all?). Once in a while is fine, but chronic lateness is the sign of a troubled employee.
Same with those writers who miss deadlines. Recently, I talked with several New York Times bestsellers (not together, and for different reasons), and all of them mentioned in passing the pressures of deadlines. Most writers feel pressure, but Times bestsellers, particularly “tent-pole” writers who lead lists and on whose head entire book imprints rest, have to meet their deadlines or everything from the carefully balanced ad campaign to the huge capital outlay that the publishing company will pay to print 500,000 hardcovers at once will be all screwed up.
One of the bestsellers I talked to knew that a deadline would be missed nine months in advance, and still the publisher was angry and put on a great deal of pressure to meet that deadline.
You see these bigger names talk about the pressure in subtle ways. For example, Jeffrey Deaver, who writes extremely complicated novels and has an equally complicated process, challenged himself to write a particularly difficult book (for him—ah, hell. For anyone) and was discussing it in the October issue of RT Book Reviews. In the middle of that discussion, he said this,
I actually don’t [worry that I will run out of ideas]. The problem I have now is the opposite: one of endurance. I’ve got so many ideas for novels, I don’t have the energy to write them as quickly as I used to. This year I did two books and it was exhausting!
I can tell you part of that exhaustion comes from stress and pressure, the knowledge that you’re balancing on a high wire, and even though you like to think you’re in control of what you write, you’re really not. If Deaver’s experimental novel, The October List, hadn’t worked in draft form, he either would have had to push his deadline back or write a different book.
As cautious as he sounds from this interview, he probably built failure into the equation. He probably had the book done much earlier than usual, just in case it didn’t work.
One of the tent-pole writers I spoke to a few years ago told me a hair-raising story of missed deadlines, editorial threats, and an unwillingness (on his part) to turn in a bad book. The publisher, who had a million or two tied up in this novel, wanted something, anything, to fill that slot, and the writer wanted to have a book that worked. It caused quite a serious problem, one that took a long time to sort out. It also created hard feelings, and the tent-pole writer left that publisher soon after.
I was a radio journalist for nearly a decade, and for half of that, I was in charge of a nightly newscast (and occasionally the early morning newscast as well). If no one wrote anything for the broadcast, if we had no original journalism at all, we still had a half an hour of airtime to fill. I had three back-ups: the reporters I could call who would be able to get okay stories for the slots in less than an hour, my own skill at writing twenty minutes of copy in less than three hours, and if I had no other choice, short squibs ripped from the wire services. I never had to resort to point three, although some nights it came close.
At the same time, I wrote nonfiction business articles, several per week, also under deadline. I wrote fiction on Saturdays, struggling to finish my story in a 10-to-12 hour day because if I didn’t, I might not remember what the hell I was doing a week later.
In those years, I trained myself to use that anxiety as a fuel. If I didn’t do x, then y would not happen, and z (usually a disaster) would result.
My editing career worked on the same principle. If I didn’t have 60,000 words of fiction compiled by a certain date, then there would be no magazine, and that simply was not an option. So hell, high water, sickness, personal crisis—none of that mattered. Only the deadline.
By the time I moved to full-time fiction writing, I had incorporated that low-level anxiety into everything I did. It worked well. I had several novel deadlines per year, and if I worked around them right, I could also finish several short stories (anywhere from six to twelve). Most of my wake-up anxiety focused on word count (if I finished 3,000 words that day, then I’d be on track to finishing the novel on time), but underneath that word-count anxiety were two different ones: first, if I didn’t finish on time, I wouldn’t get paid on time, and the whole house-of-money-cards would tumble; and second, if I didn’t finish on time, I might get branded a troublesome writer and never work in that town again. (You think editors don’t gossip? Oh, they do. Believe me, they do, especially about writers who are difficult.)
So that performance-job security fear was underneath everything, just like it had been at any day job I’d ever held.
Fast forward to spring of 2013. I finished my final traditional publishing book deadline for New York. I vowed not to have another. I told the kind folks at WMG Publishing that I would not work with deadlines. I would submit a book when it was finished and not before.
It’s a great way to work, honestly, because it gives me the freedom to fail on difficult projects, and to spread my wings on old favorites. Just this summer, a book I thought was going to be one volume has mushroomed into at least three (the first of which is done), and as irritated as I am about the length, I’m also happier than I would have been in traditional publishing
I’ve been through this route before traditionally. Once, when a novel blossomed into three, I called my editor, and she immediately issued a contract for the next two books. (Boy, I miss her; she left the business twenty years ago now.) Another time this same thing occurred, I called my editor (a different woman), who panicked and said she wasn’t even sure she could publish the book I was working on, let alone two more. I crammed everything into that final book, and now wish I hadn’t. It’s not as good as it could be.
In a couple of other cases, I just set the projects aside: their lengths made them untenable.
So this new way of working suits my style of writing. I still have deadlines. This blog is one of them, not because I’m afraid you’ll all hate me if I put out a Gone Fishin’ sign, but because it’s important to all of us—and I’ve had a streak going since the first week of April 2009. That streak thing, it works for me. I don’t want to break it.
I also still take short stories on deadline, not because of the deadlines, but to test my own writing abilities. Most of those stories are for anthologies that make me think about topics I wouldn’t normally think about. That stretches me as a writer.
And of course, I now have editing deadlines as well. Fiction River has its own set of deadlines that need to be met, and I work ahead as much as the system WMG Publishing has set up allows me to.
But on novels, which is the bulk of what I write? No deadline. None. I can fart around for days if I want to; I can write 10,000 words every day until I fall down if I want to. No juggling, no math in the morning, no searches for holes in the finances.
It’s all rather perfect.
So…that’s why I found it strange that my anxiety levels rose over the summer, rather than decreased. I kept trying to see if it was the really big project (no), if it was stuff in my personal life (no), if it was something in the system that I wasn’t seeing (no).
I couldn’t find it, and the anxiety grew so bad that I started having nightmares. The only equivalent nightmare I can relay to you is that one that all of us have had where we dream that the alarm has gone off and we’ve slept through it or we’re late for work, when really only an hour or two of sleep time has gone by. I had my writing equivalent of that kind of nightmare, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Until Dean and I started talking about this. We talked it to death, and then kicked it a few times, and then talked about it some more.
And I finally said that I was feeling “untethered.” Not trapped, not overwhelmed, “untethered.” Floating free. Which was what I had designed.
However, for thirty years as a deadline-driven writer, I’d had a tether. And I had built my days around that tether.
I finally figured out that without the deadlines, I was like a new writer who had just quit her day job. I had no idea how to organize myself.
I groped around for a new tether. I couldn’t tie myself to online sales because that gave control to other people. Besides, if I wrote a complicated book, a “book of the heart,” and the readers hated it, I would be devastated.
Using sales was a set-up for failure.
Just like setting new deadlines with WMG would be. Or asking Dean to track my progress daily. (He’s going to shudder when he reads that suggestion.) Dean’s blogging his daily progress, but for me that’s a set-up for failure as well, because I do have chronic health issues. So I would have great days, great weeks, and then nothing, and I would feel bad about the nothing, which would lead to a death spiral.
Besides, I really don’t like to be accountable to anyone, not even through a blog.
I went through idea after idea after idea, and they were all what I call “outer-directed.” In other words, the definition of success came from outside of me, which gave the control of my success over to other people.
I knew from personal experience that outer-directed goals were a bad thing for me. My anxiety levels rise just thinking about them.
So a few more weeks of thought later, I finally figured out how to solve the problem. And ironically, it was the solution I had used before my radio work, before the massive nonfiction deadlines, before the novels.
Back when I was training myself to sit down and finish something, I learned the hard way that my greatest distraction was not other people or my computer or games or the phone or the television. My greatest distraction was other novels.
If I started reading a novel at lunch, I would finish at dinner. And then I’d deem it too late to write. So I had to make reading my carrot. I didn’t allow myself to read until I was done writing.
I’ve mentioned that a lot before, because the stupid compulsion remains. I cannot read fiction before I’m done writing my own fiction or I won’t get anything done.
But there was another component to my writing back then, one I dropped as the deadlines, publication dates, and payments took over. I wouldn’t let myself read anything if I hadn’t written that day.
In other words, reading was my reward. If I finished 3,000 words, I could read a book. If I didn’t, I couldn’t read until I did.
Carrot, meet stick. Stick, meet carrot. I had forgotten you guys.
For so many years, I had used that workplace anxiety/stress/deadline pressure as my stick, and the completion of the book and ultimate payment as the carrot, that I had forgotten how to use anything else.
The moment I remembered the old carrot and stick from the days when I didn’t have a prayer of selling anything, my nightmares went away and so did the anxiety. And, weirdly, I started working harder. Or maybe not weirdly.
Because I had become tethered again, this time to something I enjoyed.
I’m having a lot more fun now, and I’m coming up with variations on that old carrot and stick, including (after particularly difficult projects) a one week vacation composed entirely of reading . Yeah, to some people that would be a nightmare in and of itself, but for me, that’s just plain heaven.
That’s what we all have to do. We have to define our own carrot-and-stick for the writing. And I would suggest that the inner-directed short-term goals are better than outer-directed ones. I think it’s bad for writers and creativity to seed our feelings of success to forces we can’t control.
My own anxiety levels are pretty much gone. Sometimes I wake up and feel around for them. It’s almost like I had a broken tooth that I worried every morning, promising myself I’d do something about it. The tooth is fixed, and I still search for it before I remember that it’s been repaired.
It’s not quite the happily-ever-after you usually get for a story that begins with “once upon a time,” but it’s close—at least for me.
Have I mentioned lately how much I love this new world of publishing? It gives me the freedom to write anything—and the ability to read anything.
And boy, oh, boy, is that fun.
Knowing that you folks show up every week is a huge carrot for me. I get the blog done even when I’d rather be reading. In fact, I’m storing up a few blogs since I’ll be teaching next week and working on a big project the week after. I try to get ahead just a little in case something gets in the way.
But never fear: if something big happens in publishing, I’ll write about it. I’ll just put off one of the other blogs until a later date.
Thanks, everyone, for coming on a weekly basis. I appreciate the comments, the links, the e-mails, and the support. I also appreciate the donations, which fund this blog.
“The Business Rusch: Carrots And Sticks” copyright © 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
thank you for naming the *untethered* feeling! I am in a transition between 2 family businesses, and have a 1-year window of opportunity to give full-time writing a real try. The sense of free-fall I get has a lot to do with indecision. That can be really bad, because I grab the low-hanging fruit and “do something else,” such as”:
-switch the laundry
-“other business” activity
-feed the fish
-start reading a book
-check social media
-go to the gym (on the theory that I’ll write from the library, which is right next to the gym)
None of the above activities put words on a page. I have no problem with deadlines for your seminars (because being challenged is fun, and those assignments are short), or for anthology deadlines, or even publisher-set deadlines. My own deadline, however, are as firm as wet noodles. I suck at self-discipline.
I am definitely adopting your idea of carrot-and-stick when it comes to reading (and that will include your and Dean’s websites.) I have already installed productivity software on all my browsers, which blocks FB, Twitter, Goodreads, and all those other time-sucking websites during my official working hours, and place a daily time limit on them. It has helped immensely!
My problem, I think, is that I don’t see my writing as important enough to warrant a serious internal deadline. How do you go about taking yourself seriously as a writer, and when do you stop feeling like an impostor? (Yes, this is a serious question.)
Kate, I can only speak for me, but it’s a daily struggle to feel like I’m working when I do something fun like writing. So…the answer to your question, for me, is it hasn’t happened yet. Wish I could say it has! Good luck with it all.
You know, that’s a good point. Maybe I have a hard time taking myself seriously because I don’t feel like I am working when it’s fun. Writing just feels so self-indulgent. It’s not that it’s always easy, it’s not and I have a lot to learn, but it’s a lot more fun than anything else I’ve tried and been paid to do.
A friend of mine, who happens to be one of my trusted readers, is a physician. Her take on the value of writing is that reading helps her forget that a patient died, or that she had to pull a double shift, and getting to read lighter fare just helps her relax and recharge. So there is value in there for some people, and even escape is useful. I try to keep her in mind when I feel like I should be “looking for a job doing something useful.”
Speaking of someone who became a physician, like your friend, it’s taken me about this long to see that there is a need for storytellers in our world. That it’s an important calling, too. So be proud.
My realization made me a little sad, since writing was my first love, but luckily, I’ve been writing seriously for the past decade plus, so I never let that dream die. I just have a few more grey hairs to show for it.
Thank you. This might be the motivator and inspiration I need to get some writing done.
Unrelated: I was so pleased to see the e-version of The Disappeared on sale. I’d remarked some time ago how I mainly consumed my fiction through the library. Now that I have a long-term position and am no longer a college student, I can afford to purchase fiction. I still have The Freelancer’s Survival Guide on my wishlist, but it will have to wait for another paycheck.
Thanks for keeping up the good work and continuing to let other writers (even fledgling ones) know how you make your career work for you.
I’m finding I have to do something like this. Reading, gaming, and drawing are the things I keep wanting to do. And I stress myself out when I don’t get to it, or get to writing, so I might take the write first, do the things you enjoy later strategy and see if it works for me.
I have to admit to being fairly self-disciplined, but right now I’m behind on my self-imposed schedule and it’s taking everything within me to tell myself it’s all right. However, I believe I need a small amount of pressure to give me the nudge to keep going. I’ve always been one for discipline and order (I think I was in the military in another life), and without some type of planning or scheduling I would be overwhelmed by choices to the point of inaction.
These responses have been great! It’s so interesting to see how others push themselves and react to deadline stress.
I’ve got a chronic health issue that can interfere with my writing as well, but I’ve yet to find a way to let myself off the hook for slowing down or stopping writing when it gets bad.
Besides things like that, without deadlines, where does the line fall between self-discipline and self-indulgence? Or, put another way, how do you know when to write and when not to?
Sounds like a simple question, but for some of us indies like myself who never cracked the traditional publishing nut (and boy are they nuts) 🙂 and who went from total obscurity to having a fan base to feed stories to, I feel like I should be writing every waking minute.
This does not help my health issues. (grin)
I’m swamped right now, so I’m not answering a lot of comments until later today, but thought I should answer this one right away, Rob. My rule on my health issues is this: If I had a day job, would I go today or not? If no, would the boss accept my explaination? If no, then I haul my tired butt to the chair. If yes, then I do what I need to in order to take care of myself. If the answer is “hell yes, you idiot, we’ve been worried about you,” I stop everything and rest. There are some things I can do while down. TV, movies–y’know. Story. 🙂 I hope that helps. 🙂
Thanks, Kris. That makes total sense. It often comes down to my wife telling me to ease up, because it’s often hard for me to recognize my own symptoms. She makes a good stand-in boss. My problem comes when I start thinking my “boss” is being too easy on me. I should know better after 14 years of living with her. 🙂
I know this blog isn’t about dumping out your emotions, Kris, but I’m surprised to learn you had such a rough summer. I’m glad you found some happiness out of it. By the way, I know Brandon Sanderson uses a similar psychological campaign on himself.
A slight alteration on this might be to give yourself progress milestones for a project, with rewards scattered along the way.
Sorry, meant to add…
Giving yourself milestones means that your progress accumulates regardless of what you get done on any given day. Even 20 minutes here and there gives you visible progress toward the next milestone. That scattering of carrots would probably work even better on those of us who are challenged by daily goals because of our schedules.
Another extremely useful essay, Kris. Thanks. These are things I teach my students about, and this essay will be especially helpful because I’ve never experienced deadline anxiety myself. Never. I guess I was lucky to fall into some patterns that saved me, right from the beginning.
I guess first and foremost is that I simply won’t accept deadlines. I knew from the start that I can’t create well under pressure. When it comes to writing, I never commit to any date unless I already have the piece done. In other words, I write only books of the heart, articles of the heart, interviews (yes) of the heart, …
Yes, I’ve done some of these heart-works that nobody would buy. Now I can publish them myself, or not if my heart tells me not to.
As far as motivating myself to write, it’s not a problem because my heart is always in everything I write. If my heart stops being in it, I stop writing it and write something else that my heart wants to write.
I realize that my process wouldn’t work for everybody, though I suspect it would for the likes of you–because I know you never run out of ideas that you would love to write about.
As you so clearly describe, I guess the money pressure is what pushes so many writers to attempt to write things their hearts are not into. That’s why I tell wannabe writers that they should have enough money saved so they can turn down projects that they won’t love to do. That may require other sources of income, or severely lowered expenses, or perhaps another person who can support them through those dry periods.
I guess that’s part of my formula. In my first years as a writer, I held another job and also committed myself to save every chunk of money I received for writing. After some years, I was able to apply the heart principle to all my work, so I became a consultant—with no fixed income, just like a working writer. And, there, too, I applied the heart-work only principle.
Now, those savings have accumulated to the point where I would never have to work for money—but my dear heart keeps me working all the time. It’s a great life, one I wish for everyone.
Love this, Jerry. Thanks for living that way and sharing it.
This post is coming at a really good time for me. I’m really struggling with this in some ways right now, and have been off and on since I left the corporate job in 2011. What’s weirder to me is that the struggle hasn’t remained the same at all, but continues to morph, depending on environment, project, mood, whatever. Like, what worked in India didn’t work in San Francisco. What worked in San Francisco isn’t really working here in Oregon. What worked on that project doesn’t work on this project. What worked for that series doesn’t work for this series…etc.
I am learning a lot weird stuff about myself, too. Like, if I don’t get up at 6am and work, but get up at, say, 10am instead, no amount of mental gymnastics will get me to make up those four hours I missed by getting up later. They are just gone.
So yeah, I get up at 6am.
I’m also realizing I’m flat-out not consistent. I’m not a trickle writer, as much as I’d like to be one, and as much as that would satisfy my Germanic sense of order. I write 10K words one day, then 1K the next…then maybe none the day after that.
I feel like this whole process is a discovery of myself, actually…mostly a good one, but one that can be really stressful when it’s not working for some reason. Most recently, I’m giving myself permission to slow down a little, at least for this period…or maybe just these particular projects. During 2011, I basically just puked out words. I think this was a combination of things…not the least of which being I finally had *time* and I had all of these projects that were more or less backed up and written in my head already.
Now, though, I’m realizing that obsessing on word count isn’t the best way to motivate myself. I’m still tracking words, sure, but it’s not The Most Important Thing for me right now, as it has been at other times. I’m focusing more on quality again, and sometimes that can come out fast, and sometimes it takes a bunch of percolating between writing bouts and a lot of reading and staring at nothing and whatever else…I’m trying not to let that stress me out too much, because it can feel like “laziness” or “wasted time.”
It finally hit me the other day that I may NEVER be consistent on this stuff. Meaning, maybe my schedule will always be dependent on the particular book, or the particular place I’m at in my life, or my own internal rhythms and whims…my emotional state, whatever. Maybe I just have to learn how to be fluid with that (which really doesn’t come that easily to me, honestly), instead of giving myself endless guilt trips and scare speeches. I do pretty well with deadlines, funnily enough, but when it comes to novels, they can make me really intransigent, too.
So yeah, I think I’m learning to listen to the sound that only i can hear, when it comes to when and how to work from day-to-day. But it’s still hard. And right now, anyway, it’s still stressing me out.
I don’t know if it makes me feel better or worse that you’re still coming up against this at times, too? 🙂
Julie, I find that my productivity varies with the project, and my life, too.
My latest medical mystery (Terminally Ill) took me a long time to finalize, but my latest, light-hearted caper, where I was laughing and snorting to myself as I wrote it (The Italian School for Assassins), whipped by in just over a month. But now the sequel (The Goa Yoga School of Slayers) is bogging down a bit. That’s life, I think.
Kris, thanks for sharing this. I think it’s terrific that you’re working things out for yourself instead of just following what other people think should be your goal posts. When I see you at workshops, you seem certain. I like this glimpse behind the scenes.
Scattering carrots works only if you take yourself seriously enough to actually carry through on the reward. It’s not as easy as it sounds. For instance, few years back I finished a triathlon, and for a plodder like me that’s a big deal. I promised myself a full-hour massage, except it took me a full year to execute my own promise! I hate to admit that I loved writing fan fiction so much because the reward came from reader reviews, and I never felt alone in my room. Now I am very careful when it comes to making promises to myself. It’s a bit screwed-up, I guess.
I had this problem too, Kate. But I read two books that urged me to get into the habit of treating myself (Sex, Soul & Synchronicity & The Joy Diet), and after a terrible life roll, I forced myself to do it, and now I don’t feel so guilty.
Life is short. You shouldn’t wait a year for a massage, especially after a triathlon. But better late than never!
Dang. And I just got the premier issue of Smith’s Monthly in the mail today. Should have read your post tomorrow, now I gotta write before I dig into Dust and Kisses. 😉
P.S. Lie to yourself about, or pay insufficient attention to, I should add.
Another lovely post, Kris! You are a binge reader like me. I can’t even reward myself at the end of a writing day like you can. Mostly I have to go weeks, and then just read for several days at a time.
Also very much relating to those on-going mental calculations about deadlines.
And, yes, “Know thyself” is one of the few hard-and-fast rules I believe in for career writers. If you lie to yourself about your process, you can get in huge trouble.
I never understood the concept of “self discipline”. My whole life I first had teachers, then bosses telling me that I should have the “self” discipline to do what “they” wanted me to do. How is that “self” discipline” when it is what “they” want, not what “I” want. HA!
I look at writing the stories from the simple viewpoint: that if I do not write them, the story can never be read by me, or anyone else.
Look at the movie _The Neverending Story_. The dreams go out into the world, people tell those dreams to others, feeding back into Fantasia to come back as more dreams. _Imaginal Realm_ to _Real_ back to the _Imaginal Realm_, but it takes many Dreamers and many Storytellers to keep the cycle going.
You can now sit and do nothing, no one has a gun to your head. You can read other books, etc…, but you will find that as your stories are not written you won’t be able to read stories by other people. It’s like sawing using a two-person saw. Without the other person at the other end of the saw, the saw won’t cut.
I remember watching _ABC Wide World of Sports_, when it was good; specifically the logging competitions. These are two videos that show when someone is learning to work two-person and then how two people can out cut a chainsaw.
Learning to use a two-person crosscut saw
Chainsaw Loses Race Against Crosscut Saw
– The two-person saw is always under tension, you can’t push your side, and both sides have to bear down.
When people write alone, thinking that what they are doing is a solo act rather than as part of a greater whole, the work is harder.
– Why should I write this. Is it just to make money. Who cares if I write this, etc…
When you realize that you cannot write without reading other people’s books, and you can’t read other people’s books without writing, you will have all the incentive you need. The more you write, the more you will read; once you understand that each feeds the other.
If you do this right, then in essence, you are working in tandem with other writers to “saw those logs”, even if they don’t know it. HA!
This is the perfect example of what I’m talking about.
Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming
It’s not about “carrots and sticks” it’s about carrots and carrots as we are feeding ourselves and the world, using our imagination.
We have our marching orders. HA!
Thanks for the link. Great talk by Gaiman! Really fabulous! Loved his quote on escapist reading: “As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.”
I’ve been having a very stressful year, and I was really struggling just to meet my own self-imposed deadline of one new title a month. Finally, my husband said, “If you keep this up you’re going to go crazy. You are making yourself sick. Maybe you should go back to writing as a hobby for a little while, instead of having it be your second job.”
So I did. I spent a few weeks hardly writing at all, just letting myself de-stress. I read books for pleasure, which I hadn’t done in more months than I care to think about. (Research, yes. Pleasure, no.) I spent one glorious Saturday writing a 3500-word short story for an anthology I desperately wanted to submit to, but only because the story idea had finally gelled, not because the deadline was coming up. It felt awesome.
But now I’m struggling with the lack of structure. The time I used to use to write has become very unreliable due to day-job changes, so I need to carve out time somewhere else, and I don’t know where. And without the pressure of needing to meet my release schedule, it’s too easy to just say “I’m too tired to write right now.” Especially as the days get shorter.
I’ve tried using the carrot and stick before, but I have a hard time finding a carrot that I like more than I can tolerate the stick. I have some other goals I’m trying to achieve right now, like working out and taking time to meditate. So I think I may start using writing as the carrot. Something like, if I meditate for 5 minutes or do a short workout, I can spend 20 minutes writing. No word count or deadline pressure, no self-imposed guilt that I should be doing something else like laundry or book covers or working on my website, no pressure to work on one particular project over another.
Yeah, that sounds like it might work… Thanks for writing this post, Kris, and inspiring me to think about this from a new angle. 🙂
“Know Thyself” is probably one of the most critical writing tools. What motivates you, what scares you, what keeps you anchored, what keeps you working.
I find that my blog keeps me anchored. I like the nearly daily deadline. They’re public, and yet they’re mine.
I think I’m going to actually do more in future. I don’t know if there is a huge market for character analysis and other literary commentary, but it seems to work for the blog. I’m going to see if it works for publishing.
Fascinating post, Kris. And great advice. Indie authors are used to writing in the ether. We have to find tricks to continue, one way or another, without surrending too much power to other people. It may just be a little spark like a reader’s comment on a blog that would sustain us, but in my opinion, absolute self-reliance is an utopy.
We have to aim at self-reliance, though.
A few years ago I traded my high-stress day job for a no-stress day job. My health vastly improved as a result.
I hope you get the same benefit.
Stress kills, and I’m not nearly done extracting your knowledge — er, listening at your feet.
My God, when you mentioned anxiety about deadlines, you could be talking about me. For the first time, I’m going to miss one. In some ways–and for reasons I can’t really discuss out loud–it won’t “matter” and I know, intellectually, that there’s plenty of time since the new book won’t be coming out until Feb. 2015. I also know that I’ll only be a little late . . . but late is late, and I hate the feeling. Feels like failure, and it’s all rather paralyzing sometimes, especially because I’m not farting around either. I’m not Deaver (uh . . . yeah), but I have the same problem. The book’s very complicated and something I’ve never tried before. So I’ve written hundreds of pages that are all false starts, dead ends, etc. In the meantime, I have a gazillion ideas for other books, and two half-done, but I simply can’t return to them (and reinforce my feeling of competence/confidence by getting somewhere with them) until this one is done.
So I’m just slogging, like Tiger Woods: grinding it out. But I’m also waking up at 3 a.m. every damn day, filled with a new sense of angst and failure and panic because I’m not living up to what I’ve set for myself as a goal.
And–yeah–I worry about the performance-job security fear shit, too. Like, I’ll be “late” (again, this is relative, and no one’s come looking), but then what if the book and the series tanks?
Still . . . I know this is going to sound silly, but for me and right now, having that deadline is necessary. It makes me focus and push myself, in much the same way that contest and anthology deadlines used to, and I do like the security of a deadline and knowing that someone is waiting for me to cough up the book. I think I would have the same free-floating anxiety you experienced without that. I’m disciplined; this is a job, after all. If I were to go the self-pub route at this point, I don’t know what my carrot would be. The stick would be my own, very strict superego. But knowing me, I’d worry that I’d be looking at sales and blog reviews (forgetting that reviews are merely private taste made public) for external validation.
There’s got to be something better (for me) as both a carrot and barometer. I’ll notify you if I find it.
Super post, Kris.
This is great, Kris. First of all, what a fascinating window into your process. And second, what an illuminating window into mine. Thanks for showing me what I didn’t see about my own psychology. Good work today, Dr. Rusch.
The carrot and stick. Love the idea Kris.
No one would hate you if you hung out a Gone Fishin’ sign.
You might come back to a lot of pouty lower lips, big sad eyes, and comments like, “Don’t you love us anymore?” but no one would hate you.
Something that simple – and it’s something that I’m going to try. I have to admit that once I get home after the long day job (I get in at 7AM, don’t leave until 4PM) and the equally long commute, about all I can think of is making dinner, flopping on the couch, and reading; it has a calming effect.
But I’d really, really like to do some writing then, and like you, so many times I’ve said, “Nah, too late.” I’m going to try it tonight and see if it’s a good enticement. Because I noticed when I did do some writing the other day, it felt great, and I got all giddy.
As for a 1 week vacation just reading, count me in as one of those who thinks that would be absolute heaven. 🙂