I try not to put too much on here that might be construed as Advice, primarily because I don’t really think I am in any away accomplished enough to be telling other artists how to do their thing. On the other hand, as you may have seen on Twitter, I recently finished writing Bonhomme Sept-Heures, the sequel to King in Darkness, and I thought I’d write a little about that process briefly today. I think it’s useful for me to get my thoughts about it down and perhaps someone will read them and find them useful.
As you may recall from previous entries, I got more than a little behind schedule writing this thing. Originally I had hoped to have a full draft by the end of November, and for a while it looked like that was going to happen. Then Life Intervened, and ‘hey, this is going to work’ turned into ‘there’s no way this is going to work’. That derailed me, or if I was already derailed, pushed the locomotive further into the mire. I knew I wasn’t going to hit my goal and that was demoralizing and demotivating.
I think setting goals and targets is a good idea. It gives you something tangible to push for and to work towards, and a way to measure your progress. Many people do well under pressure (and many more believe they do, but that’s a different conversation) and working under a little gentle pressure can sometimes be beneficial. I do it all the time and usually it works out ok.
There is a danger to it, though, because if you set a target you can’t hope to hit (as I did, in retrospect, thinking I could write Bonhomme in a month) then all you do is risk feeling like you’ve failed or let yourself down. As it happened, I probably did less writing on the book than I would have in late November and early December than I would have without the stupid goal making me feel like I’d messed up, when I really hadn’t – I’d done what was possible for me to do, and that should have been ok.
So setting targets can be a good thing, but I think they need to be realistic targets, and you have to realize what they’re for – good goals are there to motivate you and help your process; if what they’re doing instead is making you feel down on yourself and putting you under stress then they’re counterproductive, and you should feel fine about adjusting them or setting them aside.
Ok, so after that the Christmas holidays interrupted much more work getting done – which happens – and then we got to January, and I had a new problem. By now, I had formed the idea that the book was Not Going Well in my mind, and so I didn’t want to work on it (because it wasn’t going well) and sort of avoided thinking about it (because it wasn’t going well). There was other stuff going on too, but in general I had in my mind that the book was A Problem and the easy thing to do was to do something else.
I suspect I’m not the only person who does this; it’s very tempting to put difficult things and problems we don’t know how to solve aside and move on to things we feel more comfortable with. Sometimes those are even productive things (I did a lot of laundry, man) but it doesn’t get those problems solved. The book was not magically writing itself on the hard drive at night.
Finally I realized it was February, my publishers were doing acquisitions in March and so the book sort of Needed To Be Done (for reasons discussed last time). I made myself get back at it, and discovered (no surprise, in retrospect) that the book did not have as many problems as I thought, and got it done. It began with breaking “Finish It” into smaller tasks (fix the scene where <x happens>) and starting to check those off. I have often found that a useful approach. After I dragged myself through a couple of those, the momentum came back and the last parts of finishing the manuscript went quite quickly.
I think it’s natural to try to avoid things we know are going to be difficult and that we’re not entirely sure how to do, but I also know that when I do that I can start to generate those negative feelings again (haven’t written anything on the book today, have you? No you haven’t. Hack.) and so the best thing, really, is just to do something. Make a little progress, because then you’ve done at least that little bit, and for me anyway, most things tend to build momentum as I work on them.
So the book got written, although it (obviously) isn’t finished yet – I’m already getting comments back from the Eager Volunteers and doing some rewriting, although in general the feedback has been very kind – and I’m proud of that, and pleased with the story it tells, now that it has a beginning, middle and an end. Hopefully the people who read it will like it too.
Maybe some of this will be useful to people who read it; mostly I’m going to keep this around for when I start to have some difficulty with the next project, whichever one that turns out to be.
I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for reading.
As you also may have seen on Twitter, I am very excited to be able to confirm that I will be attending the Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston this summer! Limestone is a fairly young convention and although many of the writers they have lined up are SFF types, they celebrate all kinds of genre fiction so there will be lots for fans of mystery and romance books as well. Details about the panels and workshops are still firming up but the lineup of talent who will be there looks really cool and I’m very glad to be a part of it. Renaissance Press will be there all weekend and I’m already looking forward to meeting some new people and hanging around book lovers for a couple of days.
I’ll let you know more about it as the date approaches, along with other stuff that I’m also excited about in the months ahead.