The Loneliness Of The Long-Distance Writer

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cassie Alexander.  And my career in writing.  And a lot of social isolation.

Cassie, if you don’t know, is the author of the Edie Spence series, an urban fantasy featuring a nurse tending to supernatural patients.  (It’s good, trust me – go check it out.)  And she’s also crazily obsessed with getting her novels out in a properly urban fantasy-style schedule, which is to say every six months or so.  People like regular reads.  They don’t like waiting.  It’s best for your career if you can do that Seanan McGuire trick and churn out a quality novel every four months or so.

And she has written blog entries on “How To Write A Novel In Six Months.”  Basically: lock yourself inside. Cut off social contacts, except for your most absolute.  Focus.  (Because, you know, you’re not going to be a full-time novelist, you need that day job for at least the insurance – so you need to write a full novel in six months in your spare time.)

Which is a little terrifying, because I’m feeling the pressure of writing as it is.  I take the craft seriously; I write every day, usually for around ninety minutes, sometimes for as long as three hours.  Which I do at the end of a long work day, so my reward for finishing the fine programming tasks of StarCityGames.com is to vanish downstairs and abandon my family.

That focus warps my social life.  I can’t really wander too far away to visit friends on the other side of town, because if it takes forty minutes to make it to the East Side, then we visit for a few hours, I won’t have any time to write unless I get up at 6:00 a.m.  (Which is more difficult on beta blockers.)  When I do visit, it’s going to be later in the evening or end early, because skipping my writing?  Not an option.  I’m simply not good enough to not skip.

And with all of that, assuming all goes according to schedule, I will have taken six months to write the first draft of the novel I’m on now.  (Do not congratulate me until I actually finish this fucking thing.)  And that’s a draft as messy as a dropped pitcher of Kool-Aid; it’s like a graveyard, full of dead ideas that need to be weeded, and future concepts that need to be seeded.  (The final villain in this story actually changed not once, but twice, before I figured out who my protagonist’s opponent was.  A strong plotter, I am not.)  That six months is more likely going to be fourteen by the time all the drafts are said and done – though part of that length is just giving my beta readers the time to read an actual novel.

That’s with the luxury of no deadlines, though.  I have no agent, no publisher tugging my leash; I’m just sort of doot-doot-dooting through this process, making it as good as I can, not reliant on anyone.

But if I do sell this – and they want a sequel, which is entirely possible – then I’d have a fire under the old ass.  I guess I’d want to get this new novel boiled down, and so I would amp my usual writing time from ninety minutes to three hours, and possibly as long as five.  I’d lose my social life entirely until I finished this – maybe not in six months, but to try to pare the process down to under a year, certainly.

I dunno.  It’s not like this is any real concern, not yet, and I know that in the end publishers want quality product over shoveled-out shit.  But I’m already feeling a social pinch because I’m treating this crazy hobby of mine like a career.  What happens when it becomes a career, albeit a side one?  Can I be the Cassie and wall all that out to make this happen?  Am I that devoted?

And is that being a writer?  I don’t know whether other writers in my rough area of evolution experience this kind of crunch.  Maybe Kat Howard does it all in half an hour, maybe.  Maybe they all get by with part-time jobs.  Maybe I just need more time to write, which would make sense, because it certainly takes me more time to learn how to write than it does for other writers.  (Which is not to say I’m a slouch, but I know a ton of people who put in less effort and write far better stories than I do.  My main strength as a writer is not natural talent, it’s tenacity.)  Do other pros and semi-pros like myself feel that drain on their friendships, that vague feeling like all the kids are outside playing baseball and you’re stuck inside practicing the violin?

This post has been brought to you by the Ferrett Overthinks Every Aspect of His Life Foundation.

 

1 Comment

  1. Kat
    May 2, 2013

    HAHAHA! I definitely do not do it all in half an hour.

    And yes, there have very much been times when I have cancelled/ rescheduled social engagements, because there are things needing to be written. I have a invitation for dinner on Sunday that will be cancelled if my book isn’t done.

    It’s hard. But for me, the trade-offs are worth it.

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