For most of my life, I have been striving to become a writer. One day, I thought, I will be a writer. Of course, I know this was wrong thinking. I have constantly been told, “Writers write.” Writers don’t simply begin writing one day when they finally hit the big leagues; they have to put pen to paper for years before anything comes of it.
Armed with this common knowledge, I did just that. Ten years ago, I began developing a science fiction epic. I finished my first draft, entitled Colony, last December. Five years ago, I began a second story. I finished my second draft just this past week.
I thought I was getting busy. I thought I was being preemptive, practicing my craft and preparing for the day when my career would begin.
I was wrong.
As a creative type, I’m not so good at math, but let’s add up my progress so far. In the ten years that I’ve been “committed” to being a writer, I have written two novels. On average, that’s one novel per five years – and 90% of those words were written in the last twelve months. This means I’ve been pretty unproductive for someone who intends to somehow make a living at this.
Well, my two novels are done now. They’re fully birthed. I would like to pat myself on the back for having churned through so many words this year, but the reality is that I have to get much faster at this process.
Ideally, I need to be writing two books per year, and I can’t take five to ten years to conceive of them, which means it’s time to get going on something new. I need to get going yesterday, to be honest!
But there’s something stopping me.
I’ve got a bad case of “Empty Nest Syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about, right? After parents finish raising a family, their children go off into the world, leaving them alone for the first time in twenty years or more. What are these parents supposed to do with themselves? They clutch to their children as long as possible, fearing the separation anxiety they know is just around the corner.
Well, the metaphor only goes so far. I’m not worried about separation anxiety. I am worried, however, that I won’t be able to have any more kids. Do I have another two books in me somewhere? How about four or five? Ten?
A lot of writers have great ideas coming out the yin-yang, but I’m not sure I’m one of them. Most of my writing time has been so obsessed with nursing the babies I have that I haven’t spent much time grooming new prospects for the future.
Well, the future has officially arrived.
I have become a little spoiled. Writing a first draft is fairly easy when you have ten years of background research in hand. However, my new babies are barely embryonic. If I’m going to meet my two-books-per-year goal, I don’t have time to spin my wheels in development.
The question is this: how does one write from a blank slate? How does one develop a workable outline from an idea that’s only partially formulated?
At this point, you might be waiting for me to offer up a sage piece of writing wisdom, some neat and tidy advice to get you on your way if you’re in a similar position.
But that’s not the kind of post this is today. Rather, today’s post is a call to action.
Starting today, I’m going to ignore the blindfold over my eyes that represents my creative uncertainty about the vast terrain of untold and unconceived story laid out before me. Starting today, I plunge forward into the unknown, step by step, word by word.
It’s hard to believe that, in six months’ time, this baby is going to be headed off to college.
I’ve started reading a short book on Kindle called Do the Work. It’s free, kind of bizarre, but good inspiration. Maybe you’d enjoy it. I’m afraid I’m still in my work it over one more time phase. I’m close though…I can feel it.
I think Kevin J Anderson’s popcorn analogy works best for the multi-book-a-year tactic. The key is to have multiple books in progress, at different stages, so that you always have something close to publishable. That way, if you have one story that requires five years of research and world building, you can have a couple of other things on the burner that don’t.
The thing with this tactic, though, is that it takes some time to build momentum. You might take a year to get the ball rolling. But the brain works like a muscle, once it gets used to the work, the work gets easier.
Hang in there, Evan. The fact that you’ve done so much this year, proves that you can do the work, you just have to get used to a different tactic for development. But don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Not everyone can do the multi-book tactic. You might be a one-book-at-a-time kind of guy.
Good on you Evan. The creative process is challenging from start to finish. I find the brainstorm process to be a zillion times easier than the execution.. especially towards the end of the project.
Here’s a great blog post on the process and source of great ideas: http://www.austinkleon.com/2011/03/30/how-to-steal-like-an-artist-and-9-other-things-nobody-told-me/
That’s a great link, Andrew! Everyone should go check that out. I’m going to leave some post-its around my office with those expressions scrawled onto them.
Evan, I’m almost at the same place. The first draft for my WIP will be coming to a close over the next few weeks (gods willing!) and in the meantime I’m starting to have some panicky thoughts about what to do next while this ms incubates. Do I go back to a previous project that still needs work or do I start something new? If I had an idea that was burning to be written, it would be an easy decision but right now, none of the thoughts I’m playing around with feel that urgent.
Love the call to action, Evan! I am doing that right now. New idea, new book and trying to get faster at the whole process. Leigh’s right though – practice makes you better, faster, stronger (we have the technology). But you’re a gifted writer – so I have no doubt the ideas are just lurking in that awesome brain of yours waiting for you to shine a light on them.