Business Musings: The Popcorn Kitten Problem
This year, I hurt my writing career by working on my writing career. Okay, that’s not entirely true, but it feels true, which for writers is often the same thing.
Here’s what I did: I had to finish the massive Retrieval Artist project. I was writing a huge story arc, something that ultimately became 8 books. I’d published the first book in 2011, the next in 2012, and I’ve been working on the remaining six ever since.
Oh, that sounds so orderly. Here’s the truth of it: I write out of order, so parts of all eight books have existed since 2008, when I started this project. I’ve struggled to write other projects as well—and often managed it—but about a year ago, I knew I would have to focus on this single project to finish it properly. And by focus, I mean pay attention only to that project, which is not how my hummingbird brain works.
I jettisoned dozens of other projects, said no to some short story assignments, pulled out of a major anthology when it became clear that the short story I was writing was really a novel, and I didn’t have time (or the mental capacity) to try something shorter.
Right there, I probably lost an opportunity or two in the future, because I’m sure that anthology editor won’t work with me again. (Of course, she was shaping up to be totally anal. I pulled out when she said that she would require us all to revise our story three times (without having read any of them), so losing her future invites really doesn’t bother me much.)
I generally write at least one (usually more) stories per year for the Dell Magazines. I wrote a few, but stopped in the summer. I begged off the Business Rusch when it became a distraction (and the news on publishing had slowed down to Hachette, Hachette, Hachette!).
I haven’t written in my other series for more than a year now. I have at least three novels that I started from various short stories that I haven’t been able to finish.
The effect of this writing gap are starting to show. My long-awaited Smokey Dalton novel appeared in March. If this were an ideal world, I should have another in spring of 2015. I haven’t gotten to it yet, although I know what it will be—and the next one after that too.
I wanted to write three Nelscott novels about a character who is not Smokey, and slated that project for December of 2013 (because all three novels had tried to be one novel and failed, so I had 50,000 words of all three), and couldn’t get to it. Which is a good thing, since last week, I figured out that I needed to go back to my very first idea for that very first novel about that side character, but write it from multiple viewpoints.
I haven’t written a Kristine Grayson novel in two (three?) years. I have managed novellas—and I just published one, which I wrote after finishing the Retrieval Artist project. I was going to finish that Grayson novella if it killed me. It’s a holiday novella, and I wanted it out for the holidays, but I wasn’t sure I could get to it. I wrote it in October, and was immediately relieved when my varied beta readers pronounced it good.
That was the first project I worked on since the Retrieval Artist focus, and my brain really had become mush. So I was happy that it worked out.
Now, the Grayson novella finished, two of the six remaining Retrieval Artist novels up for preorder (the other four are in the queue)—and I find myself without a real deadline for the first time in maybe 25 years.
By real deadline, I mean a deadline imposed by someone else, something that I have agreed to.
I’m pretty good at setting my own deadlines. I’ve functioned like that for years before I had my first story published, and I functioned like that in down times when book contracts were scarce.
But this is the first time in my memory where I could actually coast if I wanted to.
I don’t want to. I like working.
I have a Popcorn Kitten Problem. Remember the Popcorn Kittens? My writer friends and I developed the term based on of kittens popping in front of the camera like popcorn. We use that term to describe how our brains feel now that indie publishing has given us the opportunity to write whatever we want.
I know how to corral Popcorn Kittens. I’ve done it for years. I set a schedule and go.
The problem is that every single project feels pressing. I really want to write those three Nelscott novels. I really want to write a Grayson trilogy about the Interim Fates. I really want to write a bunch of short stories. I want to occasionally put up a business blog of some kind. I really want to write the next Fey books (when I can focus again). I really want to write the next Diving book (after I clear my palate of science fiction—a year in sf was a bit much for me). I really want to write the next book in an as-yet-unpublished series because I want to get that series started. I really want to write the next books after Snipers and The Enemy Within. I really want to…
You get the picture.
Often it helps me to look at all of these projects from a business perspective. Which part of my business do I need to tend to first?
The problem is that I have let almost every aspect of my multi-genre, multi-pen name career go so that I could finish the Retrieval Artist.
The other problem is that I’m a good enough businesswoman to know that the only person who cares about this is me.
Readers and fans will wait until I publish the next book. My favorite short fiction editors will also wait until I send them the right story. They don’t feel a ticking clock.
That knowledge usually tempers this feeling.
In this instance, it does not.
My usual tricks to corral these kittens aren’t working. Figure out which project is most important? All of them. Figure out which project is ready to be written? All of them. Figure out which project will help my career the most? Gosh, how do I figure that out in the modern era? Figure out some artificial deadlines and go for them? Maybe. Hmmm. Maybe.
Dean suggested that I make a list and take all these projects out of my head. He knows me, so he also told me I can modify the list as need be.
The thing is that I already wrote a list and chucked it. And then I wrote another list and chucked it. And I wrote a third list—well, you get the picture.
Every time I start something new, I think I should be writing something else. Every time I start a list, I write the number 1 and write five things next to it. (Yes, I know, that’s not helpful.)
Whenever I think I should just give up and read and see what’ll happen next, I pick up something I want to read for research.
I’m ready to work: I just have to figure out what’s next.
And I know, I know, I can probably multi-task. Write one thing in the morning, something different in the afternoon, research in the evening. I have some business duties that got piled on me this fall, and I have to do those too, even if they’re fun. And some health things that I can’t miss on or I have days where I’m only able to sit on the couch and watch television. So I must do those.
It’s one of those dilemmas I haven’t faced in years. I know a lot of you face them all the time, especially if you started in indie. I empathize.
I’m heading off to make my list now—and hope I stick to it.
But before I do, let me ask a favor of you: Please don’t ask me to write in your favorite series or tell me which project to do next. That just makes me want to do something else. Because I’m really, really contrary. (I have no idea how I managed to complete book deadlines. I think I filed them in the homework compartment of my brain, which was trained decades ago.)
I’ll get to whatever I get to. I’ll probably surprise myself.
In fact, I’m already surprising myself.
While I’m figuring out the fiction, I’ve been writing blog posts. I’m not coming back every week, but I’ll put up posts as I go along, like I promised when I quit in May. (I put up some in August that you might’ve missed because my RSS feed was down.)
This week, a reader asked me a Spade/Paladin question that has my brain churning. This morning, another reader asked me about a general question that brought to mind yet another series I’ve been waiting to start.
The brain’s working. It’s just full of kittens.
And I need to pick one.
(And as I typed that, my three-year-old self stamped her little foot and moaned dramatically, “But it’s so haaaaaaaard.”)
Wish me luck.
As I mentioned above, I’m back sort of. I’ll be doing business blogs and a few craft blogs when the mood strikes. But that’s the key. I’ll post when the mood strikes. I’m not going to post as often as I did for the first five years.
I will still put a donate button here. I’ve been looking at Patreon, and I wish it existed when I was doing the weekly blog. I don’t think I’ll use it. I want to keep my options open—so that I can go dark for six months, if I feel the need.
But I did miss you, and I hope you come visit from time to time.
“Business Musings: “The Popcorn Kitten Problem,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.