I haven’t exactly been unproductive for the last nine months, but, well, no…since finishing my MG novel last summer, I’ve only completed six short stories, and I’ve done two revisions of Enter Title Here (soon to have a name change, according to what my publisher is telling me) and one revision on my MG novel (as well as assorted other revisions).
When you’re writing all alone, it’s easy to know when something is finished, because it’s finished when you say it’s finished. But once you get an agent and an editor (or, in my case, four editors) involved, then things become different. Everything goes through multiple rounds of revision. You spend a month revising, then you send it off and it’s gone for a month, and now you have a month or two to work on other things. It’s pretty choppy.
I draft things pretty fast (when they’re working), and I have no trouble switching focus, but even for me it’s gotten hard to get used to the idea that I’m always going to have several things going on at once. For instance, right now I’ve got:
- Enter Title Here (YA) — My debut novel. I’m currently working on line edits that’re due May 6th
- On My Knees 4 U (YA) — My popstar novel. Currently it’s wending its way through Disney, and they’re going to give me word on whether or not it can be my second book. Even if they want it, though, it’s going to require a fairly significant revision.
- Everyone Hates You (MG) — I’m expecting notes on this from my agent any day now, and, knowing him, it might need to go through multiple rounds of revision before it can be put on submission.
- Hugs and Kisses (Literary) — My sociopathic mom novel. I sent this out to a number of friends for their comments, and my plan is to revise this sometime during the next year?
- Sequential Events (Literary) — The novel I’m currently working on. I’m about halfway through at the moment, and I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to write the other half. Hopefully it’ll be after I finish line edits on ETH.
- ” June”(short story) — This is a short story I wrote. I think it’ll only be a day or so of work to revise, and then I’ll send it out.
- Three other stories — I’ve mostly either revised or abandoned my MFA stories, but I still have three that I think are worth sending out
And aside from all these books, I also need to do something about my debut. The self-promotion thing, you know? I’m on all the social networks, but there are other things to do. Mysterious mystical magical other things, whatever those might be. And I also have my consulting work.
Finally, too, I think it’s important to make time to just write. I’m not like all of these people with a huge backlog of ideas that they’re planning on writing. I have no backlog. If Disney turns down the pop star novel, I have zero idea what my next YA novel will be. The way I come up with stuff is by sitting down in front of the keyboard and writing things until finally something coalesces. And I think it’s important to make time to do that. In my opinion, given the way I’m working now, about one third to one half of my writing time needs to be exactly that sort of less-structured writing.
None of this, truth be told, adds up to a full-time job, so please don’t think I’m complaining. What I’m saying, though, is that I feel like I’ve once again approached one of those breakpoints in my life where my ambitions have started to exceed my ability to carry them out. Given the way that I’m currently working, I’m not organized enough to do all of this stuff. For instance, my MG novel was completed last July. I only sent it to my agent at the beginning of March. Between that time and now, what work did I do on it? Very little. I went through it once and cleaned up some stuff. Then I sent it out to two friends for their comments. I made the comments. And that was it: 20 hours of work on 6 days. But the lack of that work led to a six month delay!
There’s a concept in manufacturing of limiting the amount of inventory you keep on hand. Inventory is money that’s just lying around, in the form of spare parts and not-yet-sold products. The quicker you can sell those products and use those spare parts, the quicker the money can come back to you and be reinvested in the business. In my case, inventory is everything I’ve written that’s waiting for revision. And when it sits around, it’s not doing anything for me–it’s not making me money–but it’s still draining time and attention. Furthermore, it means that I’ve become the bottleneck in terms of my career’s progress. In publishing there are so many potential bottlenecks where your career can slow down–agents, editors, the economy–and it doesn’t make sense for me to add to that w/ my own dilly-dallying.
I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to structure my time so as to work on everything at the moment when I need to work on it. Fundamentally, my problem is that I feel like I need to produce new material, not just because it’s important, but because I enjoy it more. However, I feel like if I’m quick to revise something, then I’ll wing it to an agent or an editor, and it’ll come back to me needing more revision. Thus, if I focus too much on revision, then all I’ll end up doing is revising.
What I need, probably, is a two-track system. Either to spend a portion of each day on revision. Or to spend a few days in the week on revision. That way, my writing has less pressure. I can take my time in writing new things, because writing new things doesn’t hold up the revision process. And my revision will still get done.
I don’t know if that will work. Maybe I’ll find it too difficult to switch projects in that way.
However, that’s my process. Whenever I start to face constraints of this sort, I just try more and more things until something finally works.