Saturday, May 22, 2010

Getting it Done

Laura Anne Gilman started her professional life as a book editor for a major NYC house, fitting her writing into the remaining available hours. In 2004 she switched that around, becoming a full-time writer and (in 2010) a freelance editor for Carina Press.

She wrote her first original novel, Staying Dead, when everyone said that urban fantasy was dead. She recently sold the 10th, 11th and 12th in the Cosa Nostradamus series to Luna. Contrary as always, in 2008 she wrote The Vineart War, an alternate-historical fantasy, when everyone was looking for urban fantasy, and sold it to Pocket, where it became a 2009 Nebula nominee for best novel. She thinks being contrary's a pretty good way to run a career.

Find out more at lauraannegilman.net or follow her on Twitter: @LAGilman


Getting it Done.

There’s nothing quite like reading over your WiP and realizing that the opening segment does not exactly lead off from where you left your characters heading When Last Seen in the previous book. Fortunately I was only a few degrees off, so was able to massage things into line with a minimum of cursing and self-loathing.

But I'm not here to talk about that.

I should, I suppose. I could talk about what I did and why, and explain how this is all Totally Normal, but I find myself strangely disinclined to do so. I'm worried, I think, that someone will read it and say "oh, that's not how I do it, I must be doing it wrong" [You may be thinking "oh my god she's doing it wrong, she's an idiot," but I don't worry so much about that.]

Part of this hesitation comes from discussions during the break periods of Word War, the on-line writing workspace I belong to. We have a mixed bag of folk - some multi-published, some just starting out, some in-between, and what comes up a lot is "oh, but how do YOU (a pro) do it?" and its illicit partner "oh, but it's DIFFERENT for you, you're published, I'm not." And I cringe each time a variant of those questions/responses is trotted out, because Process is internal, not external, and nobody's brain works like mine/yours/his/hers, so nobody's process should be exactly the same, either and --

and I'm going to set this apart because I think it's really important --

When a writer starts a new project, nothing that came before matters.

Pro, amateur, hobbyist or die-trying newbie, we all sit there and face the same questions: "how do I do this? How do I tell this story to the best of my abilities, and dear dog, what if nobody likes it?"

The trick isn't to be perfect. The trick is to get past not being perfect and get it done.

The only how-to advice I ever give would-be writers is the classic "AiC" -- put your Ass in the Chair and start writing.

Everything after that? You've got to discover it for yourself.

Someone who has written-to-completion before has (hopefully) learned a few coping skills, some tricks and shortcuts that get them to the desired point with less hesitation...but they picked up new doubts and confusions along the way, because it's all a learning curve, right up to when we cover the keyboard that final time. And, each and every time, we make a new (and hopefully more interesting) mistake.

Different brains, different mistakes...different solutions and different results. And that's good. That's what creates all the different writers, and all the different stories.

So if you're reading the blog or the Twitter or the essay by Famous Writer Dude and think "oh god, that's not me, I'm never going to make it" or "I never thought of that, why didn't I think of that" in a negative, despairing way -- STOP. What works for you is what works.

Or, as I have in the sidebar of my journal, where I see it every day:

You sit down. You tell a story. You do it any damn way it comes out that works consistently for you. You hope people like it. You hope people pay you for it. You do it again. And again. That's all I got. Zen and the Art of Writer Maintenance. You can cheer me on and I can cheer you on, but in the end? In the end it's down to how you get your getting done, done. So get it done.

So how do you get it done?

7 comments:

matapam said...

Bribery, shame. Blackmail.

"Finish this manuscript. Totally and completely. Polish and send it to a publisher, or else."

Or else can be "You'll have to vacuum the house/do dishes/walk the dog/start a diet/no cokes for a month . . .

Kate said...

How do I get it done? In bits, pieces and snippets, usually. I let progress creep up on me while I shoehorn a few words here and a few more there into breaks at work, times when I'm kind of awake, and so forth.

The book's got to be in full flood for me to be sitting down and spending hours doing nothing but writing it - but it's kind of surprising how much gets done in driblets. At least, I'm usually surprised when I get to the end of it.

suricattus said...

Kate -- I wrote my first book mostly on the back of agendas during meetings. You find the time and shove as many words into it as you can....

-- Laura Anne

C Kelsey said...

What matapam says. I try to set a goal within the story. "You will get to this point today." Of course I then get so deep down into crafting the scene I'm writing that I spend more time on one scene than I should and then don't get to the scene I wanted to reach. With my last story I opted to turn a baseball game on, throw my laptop onto the floor, and then I huddled in the most uncomfortable posture imaginable and wrote. Doing that I successfully completed a terrible first draft. Repeating it I then managed a partially decent second draft. Then I played video games. :)

Anonymous said...

Stand up to read email and blogs. Seriously. I've found that I write faster when I'm sitting, but long-term sitting is harder on my body. As an experiment I went and bought a sturdy box raises my laptop to chest height when I stand, and when I'm doing short attention stuff, I use it.

My goal is to be able to write full speed standing up. Haven't gotten there yet, but I've lost a few pounds trying, and my back doesn't bother me so much.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Interestingly, one of my most relieving moments was when Pratchett explained he had everything outlined except this CLENCHING point in the novel. This often happens to me.
The current novel, though, is going to kill me before I finish it. It is also scary and sick beyond all belief. No, I mean it. It's insanely sick. And it won't let me stop writing it either.
(Save me.)

matapam said...

Sarah,

Sometimes you just have to write them to get them to be quiet. Maybe they can be toned down, or maybe they shouldn't be. ::Grin:: you know where to find volunteer readers.

Anonymous,

I like the box idea, and standing while typing. I shall have to try this. If nothing else, it would keep me from falling asleep at the keyboard.