HUNKERING DOWN

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

It happens too easily, doesn’t it?  This loss of time. 

Where did it go?  I look back, month to month, and identify the actions that kept me from writing.

It must have been a year ago that I turned in my final draft of BEAT.  The first thing I did next was work on the proposal for my next book.  I spent about two months on an idea set in the Los Angeles Harbor.  Did a ton of research, digging into the lives and cultures of the people living in San Pedro.  I took a four-hour tour of a container ship, led by the ship’s captain.  I did tours of the harbor on a fireboat.  I studied and prepared and learned what I could about my characters’ lives.

I wrote the proposal and I sent it to my agent and he nixed it.  Didn’t feel it would sell.  I began again.

I put my head into a cool idea about grifters.  Ensemble crime piece with twisted characters and a fresh story.  I wrote the proposal and sent it to my agent and…he nixed it.  He suggested that I write an international thriller—possibly for Hayden Glass.  I came up with another idea and wrote two proposals using the same storyline:  one was a standalone and one was a Glass book.  I wrote two twenty-page proposals and sent the Hayden one to my editor.

While I was waiting on his answer, my editor suggested I write a “Hayden” short story – something we could give away for free on Kindle and other e-book venues.  Something to introduce new readers to the world of Hayden Glass.

It took two months to write “Crossing the Line,” a short story prequel to Boulevard.  It documents the moment a younger Hayden Glass, just one year into the LAPD (two weeks into the Vice unit), picks up a prostitute, fully intending to arrest her, and instead “crosses the line.”  It’s the first time his addiction appears on the scene.  The story should show up any day now, and I intend to post a pdf file of it for download from my website.

After finishing the short story I waited for word on my book proposal, busying myself by marketing Boulevard, prepping and attending conferences like Thrillerfest, doing library gigs, working the day job, spending time with my family, dealing with the impending short sale of my house.  There were plenty of things to keep me from writing a novel. 

Ultimately, my editor suggested that I write a standalone, and my agent agreed.  But a book deal didn’t emerge and I was instructed to write the standalone without a contract.

Once I determined what I was going to write, once I had my agent on board (after all, he’s the one charged with selling the thing, it’s a whole lot easier if he’s passionate about the story from the start) I settled in to do the research.

I spent a couple months interviewing professionals and reading books about the FBI.  I somehow managed to finagle a trip to Europe for a little “boots on the ground” action.  I set a hard-and-fast deadline to begin writing the novel, a date that should have given me plenty of time to prepare. 

That date is November 1.

I haven’t finished my research.  I haven’t even finished typing my handwritten notes from Europe into my computer.

Meanwhile, the launch of BEAT has required that I spend weeks doing interviews and writing blogs.  I’ve thrown myself into the marketing, doing everything possible to give BEAT a chance.  And then came Bouchercon and my SF launch and all the signings and touring leading up to the conference.  And there are signings and touring still to come.

That elusive “start” date feels like it’s slipping away.  My wife and I have to move the crap that has accumulated in our house over the past five years and move it to a small apartment in less than three weeks.  We have yet to define what is garbage, Goodwill, recycle, storage or apartment-stuff.  This could take all of my time, further derailing my plans to have a book out quickly.  As it is it’ll take eight months to write the book, using weeknights after work and full weekend days, and then I’ve got to sell it, execute an editor’s notes, then wait ten months to see it released.

Tonight my wife told me not to let anything get in the way of my writing.  She said that she would somehow deal with everything else.  I’m responsible for keeping my day job and writing the next book and that is all.

I think I’ve done enough marketing.  I’m not sure how much it helps anyway.  And I think I’ve done enough waiting for others to tell me what to do next.

You know, Brett Battles told me this would happen.  He said it would sneak up on me, that I should write the next book without waiting for permission. 

And Bob Crais told me not to get lost in the machine, but to “write the next book, always write the next book.”

I know how I get when I write.  Everything else falls to the wayside.  Writing is all-consuming.  That means I’ll have no time for anything else.  I’ve been afraid to jump in, afraid that the house will fall apart, that I won’t spend time with my family, that the world around me will crash and burn.  I’m going to have to trust that my wife can do what needs to be done.  Homeschool the kids, manage the bills, pack up the house and move a family of four and a dog and a fish.

November 1st.  Chapter One.  First sentence.  Time to write.

29 thoughts on “HUNKERING DOWN

  1. Shizuka

    Just start and think about all the writers starting NaNoWriMo on the same date.
    Many of them are grappling in the dark with much less prep.
    Good luck!

    BTW: You're blessed to have such an supporting spouse.

  2. Alafair Burke

    You've inspired me. I have also been postponing the real start to the next book, as I always do. I'm going to set a firm date, too. Your resolve has become mine, so thanks.

  3. Eika

    You're starting on Nov. 1st? Are you going to try for the NaNoWriMo challenge? It may help you stay focused when everything else gets crazy because of your whole list of things to do.

    Good luck, however you get it done.

  4. Debbie

    Tuning out the world is the most difficult part of writing. Do you suppose that's because people are relational? Is that the writers conflictCreative isolation vs relational predisposition?

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    It's always the fish that throw you for a loop.

    I could have written this post, with a few different details. I suspect we all could have. I keep forgetting my own rule about pages being the most important part of writing – churning out pages no matter what's on them and no matter what else is in your life, because that's what makes a book. But this week – pages. Every day.

    Thanks for the nudge.

  6. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Despite my November 1 start date, I did in fact write my first page last night. Funny, one page, but it's a start. Tonight I'll plan to double that.
    I'm not doing the NaNoWriMo challenge thing, by the way. I gotta have my own pace.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Stephen,
    I bet every writer can relate to your post today. I did a similar thing on July 1. I committed to writing fiction every day. I can't do it full time; I have two active PR clients that take a lot of time (and bring me pleasure too). But I can write fiction daily. I can. I do. And I've never felt better as a writer in my life.

  8. Dao

    You can join NaNoWriMo but you don't have to win. 50,000 words in November is a lot of writing without editing, which can be a pain to edit after you finish the novel. NaNoWriMo is a good place to get motivated and to be inspired. I find the write-ins very helpful. I think you should give it a try. It doesn't cost a thing to join but you may finish your novel a lot faster.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks for the tip, Dao, but I'd slit my wrists if I wrote 50,000 words without editing. It's just not how I write. I need to produce a very solid base – I often rewrite my first forty pages a number of times before I really kick in to gear, and that's fine by me. Maybe someday I'll have a book that I'll want to write very, very quickly, but presently I'd prefer to write a very honed, solid two pages a day than a very rough ten pages which I'll eventually toss out. Still, the important thing is for me to get those two pages written, and not spend that time packing boxes or sleeping.
    And, Louise…thanks for your support, but I ain't dissing my agent here. He's very frank about his beliefs and he's a top-notch guy. If I didn't feel his comments had merit I would have proceeded with writing one of the other books. Thanks for having my back, though.

  10. PK the Bookeemonster

    Your wife is awesome. You should plan some rewards for you both along the way — she for handling the stuff and you for "x" number of pages accomplished. ๐Ÿ™‚ You can do it. Just tell us a story your way.

  11. Tom

    Stephen, I second Louise's comment. Those are books I'd buy. The Harbor, San Pedro in particular, hasn't been used much so far as I know, except for pass-through settings.

    And if you wanted to work in some historical fact, there was the explosion of the empty oil tanker 'Sansinena' – Dec. 17, 1976.

    Every day, a new beginning.

  12. Cornelia Read

    Stephen, I'll have my fingers crossed for you on November 1. That's supposed to be the day I turn in my WIP, but I don't think it's going to happen. Great to see you in SF!!

  13. Reine (Marie-Reine)

    Stephen, I'm another who would love to read those two books your agent nixed. I hope you write them.

  14. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, Reine, Tom, Louise…I will write them someday…I'm especially attached to the one in the LA Harbor. I think it's just a matter of what book to do next, as a standalone without a contract, and the international thriller that I decided on seems to be the right move, careerwise. It has a little broader appeal, yet keeps that signature dark style I've grown so fond of.

    By the way, Cornelia – I loved hanging out with you. God, I wish I could've stayed with that John Connelly party as it moved from the lobby to indoors…but that damn 8:30 am panel slot was staring me in the face, and I'd only had about five hours sleep combined during the previous three days. How wild did it end up getting?

  15. Spencer Seidel

    Stephen–

    No doubt you'll find the groove. I give you special permission to use my own sensitive motivational writing motto, which seems particularly apt in this case: Just write the damn book.

    Spence

  16. Dudley Forster

    Stephen – Continues editing slows me down and I loose momentum. I understand the compulsion. Unlike you, however, who have mastered the art of doing both, I drive myself crazy when I edit and feel no forward progress is being made. So as a learning experience, a habit forming one I hope, I'm doing NaNoWriMo this year. Alex has been very helpful in providing prep assistance on her blog. It too found the ideas that were nixed intriguing.I also concur on you being fortunate to have a supportive spouse.

  17. Dudley Forster

    I agree we really need an edit button. It was supposed to be "Continuous" not "Continues" …. sigh

  18. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Thanks, Dudley – I also get frustrated by the feeling that I'm not moving forward when I return to edit pages, but similarily, I feel that I haven't moved forward if I reach a high page count and then throw away 50% of it. I think it's just a matter of how we all choose to proceed. The fact is, writing is a bitch no matter how we do it. I may want to write a book straight through one day, without looking back until I write "The End," but at this point I think that would do me more harm than good. It's just the way I operate while writing – I don't think one is more effective than the other, I think it's a matter of personal preference. I think the pattern has been thus: work and rework that first forty pages (why forty? who knows, just seems to work out that way…maybe it equates roughly to the First Act, which is the fundamental base of all stories) then write the next hundred pages straight through, then go back and rewrite from page one to 140, then write straight through to the end. Then go back and rework the last act or so, then begin from page one and polish, polish, polish.
    Shit, it sounds like too much work already. Maybe I should just go to Hawaii and work as a bartendar.

  19. KDJames

    "Iโ€™ve been afraid to jump in…"

    How does that oft repeated quote go? Something about fear being the "mind killer."

    Geez, man. Have a little faith. Just write the damn book. Besides, if you're letting fear convince you to procrastinate, after all your success, that bodes ill for people like me. It tells me I should be afraid too. That maybe I should be typing some fucking notes into my computer instead of producing new pages. Knock it off. That goes for you too, Alex.

    And hey, I once had to pack up and move a family of four, a dog and SEVERAL fish. Across two state lines. All by myself. My then-husband had already relocated and the kids were preschool age and I had a badly injured knee. Plus it was July. In the South. By the time moving day came, we looked like something out of The Grapes of Wrath — all we needed was granny's rocker strapped to the top of the car. But I did it. Do not underestimate your wife. If she doesn't kick your ass, I will. Really, have a little faith.

    Why are you reading this? Go. Write.

  20. Anonymous

    KD……you're killin' me. (In the vaudevillian sense……not the mind kind.)

    So where's your book? (Foot tapping sound in background) I'm so ready to read you after all of your great comments on this blog. : )

    XXOXX

  21. Anonymous

    KD. That may not have sounded the way I meant it to. I was NOT being snarky. I would so love to read your work. Have loved your comments and especially this last one! Go. Write! We'll read.

  22. Allison Brennan

    How life gets in the way of writing! I can relate. And you do so much research–I can easily lose myself in research, so I don't let myself do too much. It's easier that I'm writing primarily FBI books and criminal psychology, so I can layer research about the FBI and crimes and psychopaths, rather than starting from scratch. However, I always find about halfway through a book I have something I really need to know and have to drop everything to find the answer. With KMKM it was abandoned warehouses. I wish I could have gone to NYC to tour some, but that wasn't in the cards. So I found an expert–a photojournalist who specializes in abandoned warehouses and he sent me pictures and answered dozens of questions. The only trip I know I have to do before I start writing is going back to Quantico. I'm going to try to get in for a couple days and sit in on classes and interview some people. I don't think I can write the book where Lucy is at Quantico without going back.

    The fear never goes away. I doubt myself the entire way. Then I look at my book and know it sucks. And I try to fix it. Then send to my editor, thinking it's good, and getting it back and realizing it REALLY sucks, and rewrite the entire thing. It's taking me longer to write each book. People think I'm fast, but I'm not. I just spend a lot of hours writing and rewriting and rewriting.

    You can get this book done Stephen. You've already written TWO books. Had them published. You can write the third. It won't be easier. But it will be done.

  23. KDJames

    Thanks, Anon. Been WRITING all day and just now saw you over here talking to me. And I know how you meant it. No wucking furries. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Working on it.

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