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Monday Musings: Laboring Day

September 5, 2011

And 3…2…1…We’re Back!  No more reruns, at least for a little while.  For those who kept reading, good for you.  Those who didn’t just suck.

Anyway, it’s Labor Day and since I don’t feel like a Labor Day story excerpt, let’s talk about laboring.  When I started writing this story, I was kind of excited.  As time went by, though, I lost momentum.  By the end I was just glad to get it finished and move on.

What happened?  Motivation.  In this case, I started losing commitment to the idea.  In large part the thought hit me, “Who am I doing this for?”  At first I naively thought I’d write it for my niece or any future nephews.  Then I got thinking, “She’s a girl; she doesn’t want to read a Star Trek-like story!”  Plus I had my doubts that anyone outside my family would want to read it.

So at that point I began losing the momentum.  It became a struggle to get through it, even though it was just 60,000 words.

Back in July I was reading “Dracula” for the first time and in the introduction Peter Straub notes that it was Stoker’s best book because he spent six years working on it.  The rest of the time Stoker wrote his books in just a couple of months while the theater he worked for was off.  So at least according to Straub, Stoker’s extra commitment made the book better.  (Though it didn’t really succeed commercially, at least not until the movie came out about 35 years later.)

Whenever I read about an author spending six years on a book, or 10 years as some like Jeffrey Eugenides have done, I think, “What the hell were you DOING all that time?”  I could see where you might spend a year or two doing the research—especially back in the 1890s when you didn’t have Google and Wikipedia—and if it’s 2,600 pages like George RR Martin it might take a while to write, but six years?  It’s hard for me to imagine spending that long on anything, because I think after a while I’d start thinking, “What the hell am I doing this for?”

Then again I’m a measure once kind of person.  Or “desperate” as Straub described, referring to people who put out 3-4 books a year.

Which maybe is why I’m not a successful author yet!  (Or ever.)  You need commitment to be great or even just to get through a story.  Otherwise every day is Labor Day on it.

A riddle:  What do Stan Lee, Al Kaline, and The Decemberists all have in common?  They’re all mentioned in Wednesday’s entry!


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  1. I have to agree with all the agents out there when they say, “Before you start querying, finish your manuscript”. I guess what I mean by quoting that is, you’re right. You need to be able to summon up the commitment to follow-through and finish your book.

    It’s interesting that–not really being able to identify an audience for your book–made it difficult to write. I go through a lot of that with my present story. I realize that it has gay characters in it but that it’s primarily about science fiction. It was this latter part that I wanted to come through in my writing (and I think it has). Things that may be difficult for me to find a proper reading audience? Well for one, the gay characters I write about are in a healthy/good relationship (once they get to the sequel) and my protagonist has fun with sex. But it’s less than 1% of the story. I wanted the science-fiction to carry the story and not have it be about two boys that really dig each other.

    So yeah…I’ve thought about “who is my audience for this book(s)?”

    In the end I just decided that anyone who reads science-fiction might be my audience although they might get to the pages where my protagonist wants to have a little fun and be horrified that gays are heroes and not villains and that anal sex is fun instead of painful and yucky. Admittedly the first book isn’t all roses and there are some horrific things that happen but I smooth that out in the second book. I dunno…maybe I will find science-fiction readers willing to delve into something a little different and if not, maybe they’ll just skip pages like I sometimes do in books that are really dragging ass.

    I don’t think I could ever write middle-grade fiction (and it would be a challenge to write young adult). I’ve been watching Breaking Bad this weekend and that show is amazing. But the things I like about it center around the show being so adult. I really like adult fiction, adult themes, and the use of sex, drugs, and violence in writing. I don’t think I could ever pen a story of two dogs kissing over a plate of spaghetti. Kudos that you can.

    • Hey come on, there’s no dogs kissing over a plate of spaghetti. Disney’s lawyers would hunt me down if I did that.

      Just about everything I write I have no idea who would read it. Usually I can convince myself that someone else might want to read it. That story was the exception.

  2. I think it’s possible to put out high quality work in relatively short period of time. Three or four months is plenty long enough if you know what you’re doing. At least for anything 100,000 words or less. Especially if you don’t have a day job.

    I think that whole ‘taking a year to write a book’ thing is appropriate for people who work, or have a family, or whatever. My only real, finished novel, has been played with for the better part of decade. But I’ve put it away for as long as three years between taking passes at it. I’d be willing to bet that I could probably get something just as good done in less than six months… I have to keep going back and changing things to make it more contemporary, to fix simple problems that I introduced when I first started on it because I didn’t know what I was doing back then.

    Research is a big unknown though, if you are writing something that requires a lot of it then your time to produce something probably needs to be extended a lot. Still, all that I said above I think is probably reasonable as a rule of thumb. I’m sure there are tons of exceptions.

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