A few months ago, I had a conversation with my publisher that went something like this (I may or may not be paraphrasing):
Publisher: Rob – good news! The Outer Earth series did well enough for us to offer you another three-book deal.
Rob: Huzzah! Splendiferous! Frabjous day! I shall forward my other manuscripts immediately for your consideration.
Publisher: Great. If you could just look over the contr – wait, what do you mean, manuscripts? Manuscripts, plural?
Rob: The other books I’ve written, of course. What else?
Publisher: Are we talking about ones you wrote in the run up to the ones we just published? Like before you turned pro? That’s great, Rob, but we’re not really interested in –
Rob: What? No, I wrote these last year.
Publisher: Jesus. It’s only been six months since your last book came out. How many are we talking here?
Rob: (Thinking hard) Two…yeah, definitely two finished first drafts. I’ve got a third which is almost done, too, if you can wait a few days.
Publisher: (Muffled weeping)
Rob: You alright?
Publisher: Erm…look, just send us what you’ve got, and we’ll get back to you.
Rob: Wait! What do I do until then?
So this is the problem I have – no fault of my publisher Orbit, who have a collective patience that is virtually infinite, or my saintly agent, who has discovered that working with me means 3AM emails along the lines of “Hey! Ed! I finished another book! Did you read the one I sent last week yet?” I write too damn fast for my own good. This isn’t me bragging. It’s just the truth. 1500-2000 words a day, every weekday, gets you lots of books in a reasonably short space of time. Not necessarily good books – we are talking rough-as-shit unfinished first drafts here – but still: books. Ones I can sell, and have published, at some indeterminate point in the future. I’m not saying that every book I write is going to be an instantly-sellable, automatic-publisher-YES, but I write pretty good, and so I usually send what I’ve written to the Professionals (read: agent and editor) for a look-see. But it takes time to read something, especially a rough first draft with a zillion errors. It takes even longer if you’re trying to read it critically, which these folks absolutely have to do if it’s going to be any good. Bottom line: the speed at which I write means I have to spend a lot of time waiting around.
Which led me to an interesting question. See, we, as writers, have it drilled into us from a thousand different sources that we must never stop writing. Write every day! As much as you can! Go go go! Even if you have writer’s block, you should be writing! A shopping list, a paragraph about your dog, anything! And if you’re not writing, you should be thinking about writing! It’s a calling. DOOOO IIIIIIIT!!!
But what if there are times where it makes sense to not write?
The Thing About Momentum
My situation right now is a perfect example. Having signed a new three-book deal with Orbit (Huzzah! Splendiferous! Etc.) I’m now waiting for edit notes on the first of those books, and waiting to hear if my pitch for a new series has been accepted. I am waiting – and for once, it makes no sense for me to do what I normally do, which is to bury myself in a new project.
The reason for this is momentum. Momentum is my drug, my little glass bottle of goodness which I use to fuel myself. If I start a book, and know I can keep going right until the last, tortured keyboard stroke, happy Rob is happy. But the problem is, I know that at some point in the next few days/weeks, I’m either going to have to dive into edit notes, or begin planning the first book in a new series. If I start a different project now, both of those things – which are classed Priority One, in the panicked control centre of my brain – will bring it to a screeching, shuddering halt. And when that happens: Game over, man. Game over!
Theoretically, I could use the month or two of idle time on a project that could be completed before the edit notes and/or series request comes parachuting in, bayonetting the guards and knocking over my communication towers. But on what? And why? For what purpose? Because I don’t know when this is going to happen. Any novella or short story I knock out could be interrupted at any time, and anyway, I’m a book guy. Novellas don’t really hold any interest for me beyond the purely academic. You could argue that every bit of writing makes you better, that it keeps the blade sharp and the mind lubricated. But when you write as much as I do, faffing about with short stories and the like just makes me annoyed. Contrary to popular belief, all writing is not equal. If writing novels is what I love and am good at, why would I waste time polishing skill sets, like short story writing, that I don’t especially enjoy and am unlikely to ever rely on in a serious way? Yes, I know, adaptability, changing climates, yadda yadda. Bite me. I like books. And books take time, energy, and – yup – momentum.
So, that question again: what do you do when it makes sense not to write?
Eat All The Scones
Now, I don’t do writing advice. Never have, never will. Every bit of it, beyond the whole ‘read lots, write lots’ thing, is snake oil. I can only tell you what I’m doing about this – besides writing this blog. I’ve decided to use this time to work on the parts of being a pro novelist that I’m not good at. Things like social media, which I still treat like an unexploded bomb. Things like this website – it looks great, but it’s a mess behind the scenes, with plenty of clunky metadata. Things like finding out: what do the mega-successful ones do? What can I use? What are they doing that I could cannibalise, ripping a chunk off with my teeth and stealing away into the –
Um. Anyway. I might be good at creating insane rollercoasters out of words on a page, but there are parts of being a pro writer that I just suck at. If I can use the downtime I have to work on those things, make myself better at the craft of selling books, then I’d consider it time well-spent. Better that than a three-quarters-finished novella about sentient scones, or whatever, that I will discover on my hard drive in a years’ time (when I’m doing this insane process again) and quietly cringe at.
(Note to self: include a sentient scone in 20th anniversary edition of TRACER.)
This doesn’t mean simply increasing my presence on social media. What I’m currently doing isn’t really working, so right now, it’s all about finding out what does, and doing that. It’s about talking to the ones doing it full-time – which is my ultimate goal, even though I have an amazing day job that not only pays well but gives me time and space to write – and finding out what worked for them, and if it might possibly work for me.
If you take one thing away from this, it’s that being a writer doesn’t mean you have to write all the time. Writing is the foundation of everything we do, and it makes sense to build a helluva strong foundation, but it’s not the only thing. Neglect the other stuff, and you’ll end up shivering in the cold while your roof and walls sail off into the distance, caught by the winds of fate as they…sorry, got a little carried away there.
Point is: there are multiple angles to this thing. Try to see them all. And if you see living scones, take photos.
Read the most explosive scifi trilogy ever.
A huge space station orbits the Earth, holding the last of humanity. It’s broken, rusted, falling apart. We’ve wrecked our planet, and now we have to live with the consequences: a new home that’s dirty, overcrowded and inescapable. What’s more, there’s a madman hiding on the station. He’s about to unleash chaos. And when he does, there’ll be nowhere left to run.
“Constant violence and escalating stakes keep the story moving forward at a bone-jarring pace, especially in the climax, where revelations and betrayals follow each other as quickly, and as dizzyingly, as Riley vaults down stairwells.” – Kirkus Reviews