Wrap-up

I suppose, given the timing, this should be one of those year-end summary, New Year’s resolution blogs.

Sigh.

JT (see yesterday’s blog) is in the holiday spirit (that is, the spirit we’re supposed to be in during the holidays). By now I highly suspect that’s her natural state.

I am – not so much.

I’m very glad she said all those nice positive things yesterday. In fact, if you’re in a positive mood I highly recommend that you just read or reread her post. Really. Please. Here.

Now, I couldn’t agree more that this is an amazing community, and we all should be grateful every day. Coming from screenwriting – well, just the fact that authors don’t cannibalize each other’s work for rewrite money would be enough, and what you get on top of that is like a free lifetime pass to Mt. Olympus.

No, the community is just fine. Everything’s fine. It’s me.

I have always had trouble with the few days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I always feel like there was something crucial I was supposed to do this year that I forgot. When I was a child this was more a metaphysical state. As an adult you discover there actually are things you have to do within a specific (tax) year that can really mess you up, which compounds the more metaphysical angst.

I have this angst every year, regardless of the world situation (which I’m not even going to get into – I’ve been in a state of suspended animation since the year 2000) or other factors like the writers’ strike (which is a constant cloud these days, even though I myself am most fortunately contracted for another two books, for which I am grateful beyond words).

This angst has nothing to do with the year I had, which was unbelievably wonderful, for all those reasons that JT wrote about yesterday. And chances are, if I were writing this post in the middle of a conference or tour, or even farther along in my current book, I’d be really up. But I am not farther along in my current book. I’m in the state that even the staggeringly prolific Mary Higgins Clark calls “trying to claw through a mountain of solid rock with my bare hands.”

Yeah, that about covers it.

And the really scary thing is, this particular part of “the process” can go on for months.

Ugh.

(Have I said Happy New Year, yet? Yay!!)

Anyone who’s read my posts for any period of time quickly picks up that I’m one of those authors who really doesn’t like writing all that much. It has its moments, sure, I’ll give you that, but I don’t skip to my computer every morning with a smile on my face and a song in my heart. Like Dorothy Parker, what I really like about writing is finishing.

Yet, I choose to do this impossible and not very fun thing. The thing I’ve found is that if you just start, you eventually find the hypnotic state in which pages get done and the story progresses and if you do that for a few months in a row, books somehow get written.

I’m partly saying that to myself, not you all, because I’m at the point that I’m not entirely convinced that (this book getting written) is going to happen, and I have to keep reminding myself how it works. But I’m partly saying it because maybe it’s important to say once in a while that writing isn’t necessarily a fun thing to do. It can be done when you’re low energy and full of metaphysical angst. It can be done when you’re angry and in despair. It can be done when you don’t feel at all connected to what’s coming out on the page. The number one rule of professional writing is that to get it done, you have to do it.

(Good God, what was I trying to say, here? Oh right. Year-end summary. Resolutions.)

I know the resolutions I’m supposed to make. Do more yoga. Update my website. Be a better daughter/partner/sister/friend. Get on the NYT bestseller list. Save the world.

You know. Like that.

But as an author, the one resolution that I can’t get out of my mind, that sums up what I’ve learned this year and feels like the sort of guidepost for next year, is – Write Faster.

Maybe what I mean is “Write More” – as in, DON’T do so much promotion. Now that you know what’s more effective, do half of what you did and spend that time writing. Less marketing, more product.

But when I think about it, it always comes out “Write faster.”

Because what I’ve realized, this debut year, is: for readers, a year is too long between books. By now there is no way to misinterpret that feedback. Unlike with screenwriting, there’s a compact between an author and readers. While as an author (as opposed to a screenwriter) you have more freedom to write what you want, you are also writing to reader demand in a much more intimate way.

Bottom line, what I’ve learned this year is that writing more, writing faster, is part of the job. That’s what’s going to take me to the next level of this new career I’ve chosen. It’s going to keep me the readers that I’ve been privileged to get, and get me more. If that sounds acquisitive, it’s because another thing I’ve learned is that readers are amazingly acquisitive people. They’re possessive of their books and of their authors. And why not? Books are just as much material as they are immaterial – which is why even an amazing device like the Kindle is a long way from winning readers over. They want their books, in their hands. Now. And that’s a fact.

So I guess the cause of my metaphysical angst this almost-New Year’s is that even in the middle of the clawing-through-a-rock-mountain-with-my-bare-hands-state, I am aware that I have to do more, faster, if I’m going to thrive as an author.

Depressing?

Well, not really. Impossible, maybe, but not depressing.

Despite my metaphysical angst, I know what I need to do. I don’t know how yet, but the first step is acknowledging the facts.

Can I do it? Sure I can. All writing is impossible to begin with, so all I’m doing is adding another level of impossibility. No problem.

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Wishing everyone every good thing.

Really.

Love, Alex

25 thoughts on “Wrap-up

  1. JT Ellison

    X, love, you’re one of the people I know will be able to adapt to this new paradigm. Swift writing seemed so daunting to me early on, but I found that once I removed all the little impediments, focused solely on writing, reading, and staying under my rock, the words come much faster. Murderati etc. counteracts the loneliness that ensues, but the end result is worth it. Dropping some promotion to make sure that the book is the best it can be is a small price to pay.

    Great, I’m cheerleading again. Rah-rah, sis-boom-bah, go team. ; )xo

    Reply
  2. Naomi

    Keep clawing, honey. BTW, check your e-mail because a man sitting next to me on the plane from Raleigh has some info on what you are writing about. He said I could give out his Raleigh coordinates and I just did via e-mail!

    Reply
  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    That’s interesting, JT – do you think that swift writing is a new paradigm? I’m trying to understand this. It seems that romance writers (and I mean that in the broadest possible sense – I get so tired of explaining to skeptics that romance is a HUGE collection of subgenres and not at all the old Harlequin bodice ripper cliche that most people think of it as….) have always put out more books per year than other fiction writers. But maybe what you’re saying is that more of the industry is adopting that paradigm, because it sees that the romance genres are thriving in a way that other genres are not?

    Anyway, you’ve squarely hit on my unease – how do you write faster without sacrificing quality? As it is, I am in awe of swift writers without necessarily being in awe of the product that results.

    Reply
  4. toni mcgee causey

    Yeah, it’s a scary thought, feeling the need to claw out more than one book a year, while keeping the quality up. I hope that part of the solution is to work on the second one during the natural down times a book offers: between drafts, while waiting for the editor to read, while waiting for copy edits, etc.

    Reply
  5. JT Ellison

    Alex, I know there are writers who forgo sending out ARCs for review so they can gain an extra month of writing time. I think that’s very interesting — it goes to the whole idea that established authors don’t need reviews to gain new readers. With review space at a premium, the newspapers shutting down their review sections, and the adage that quality is paramount, I think these swift writing scenarios are definitely the new expectation.

    The romance writers have readers who don’t care about reviews. They want books to read. I don’t know if this is something that’s going to stick, but you’re right, they’ve figured out how to produce. I think it ultimately comes down to what your goal is. For a new writer, gaining readers as quickly as possible, building that base, is vital to longevity. Two books a year is doable. For me though, anything more than that and I wouldn’t be remotely comfortable with my quality.

    We’ll see, X. Maybe it is the trend, maybe it isn’t. But it’s something that a part-time writer will have struggles with. I can’t imagine producing that much if I weren’t doing it full time.

    Reply
  6. J.D. Rhoades

    Alex, I don’t know if write faster is a new paradigm. I’m always reading about the old pulp writers who turned out books in less than a month. One of the most prolific writers of fiction in the 60′ and ’70’s, a guy named Michael Avallone, wrote over a thousand books, under his own name and at least a dozen pseudonyms. He allegedly once wrote a novel in a day and a half. AND he was a tireless MWA member, according to his bio over at Thrilling Detective.

    http://www.thrillingdetective.com/trivia/avallone.html

    Now admittedly much of the output of Avallone and writers like him was trash, but some of it was great, fun trash.

    MY frustration is turning a book in and then being told it’ll be out a year from now. It sort of kills the motivation to write faster.

    Finally, *hugs*. I know that angst, that feeling of things left undone, combined with a certain disconnected feeling. Add to that the fact that everyone but me still seems to be on vacation.

    Reply
  7. Louise Ure

    X, I’ve got a similar mantra for my New Year’s Resolution.

    Write more. Write faster. Write better.

    It’s not a question of sacrificing quality for me. I want more of it, and I want it done better.

    Reply
  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Dusty, I agree – it’s not a new paradigm. Writers who make their living writing have always had to write fast. I think sometimes writing is brilliant and sometimes it’s not, and quite possibly the speed at which something is written has nothing whatsoever to do with anything. Sometimes you need more time, sometimes you need less. Sometimes you take more time than you need and it still isn’t up to snuff. That’s why quantity is important, too – to make up for those not-so-great efforts that are just going to happen, sometimes.

    Louise, though, says it all, as usual:

    “Write more. Write faster. Write better.”

    That’s the ticket.

    Reply
  9. JT Ellison

    I would think it’s all based on the production schedule. If you don’t have to have bound copies for reviews and blurbs which need to go out three months prior to drop day, you’d gain extra time to get everything finished. I don’t know if anyone would let a new author do that, but I’d think if you’re willing to skip reviews and stuff, you would gain all sorts of time.

    The other trick is to get ahead of your production schedule. I had all three contract books done before my first dropped. Gives me a massive cushion. And my editor lurves getting books ahead of schedule. Makes her life easier too.

    Reply
  10. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Alex,I’m like you — not one of the skippers with rosy cheeks and happy eyes . . . writing is a struggle for me — even though I love it on some levels.

    Louise’s: Write more. Write faster. Write Better is going above my computer this year, too.

    Last year, I wanted to complete three books. I got one and 1/3 manuscripts done. It’s a start.

    You know what one of my resolutions is: to write 2 pages a day. I know that sounds silly — but if I do it, I could have two novels by the end of the year. Or, I could have a slew of short stories and a novel. Whatever, it’s a goal I can really meet and one that will keep me exercising. I know some days I’ll write more — but I want to get the discipline of NEVER writing less.

    X-I hope this New Year is filled with so much success for you that you’ll be positively giddy.

    Reply
  11. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Yeah, I think Louise just nailed the Rati motto for 2008.

    Back atcha, Pari, and to all of us: so much success that we’re all giddy!! I’ll take it.

    Two pages a day no matter what is a goal that everyone can live with.

    I’m toying with doing something I did when I wrote THE HARROWING – I had a full time film job during the day, but I made myself write on the book for half an hour or one page at night, no matter what. I’m thinking of doing that with a second book, at night. I’m sort of afraid to start that up again right now even though it sounds so simple and rational. My hestitation is that I don’t want to cheat the book I’m working on when I have such a tight deadline.

    Still, I’m leaning so far toward that I’m almost falling over. We’ll see.

    Reply
  12. Lorraine.

    Why don’t you writer types practice a little Zen – you know along the lines of whereever you go, there you are. However long it takes to write a book is how long it takes.Writers who are admittedly slow writers do just fine — Margaret Maron comes to mind. All I want as fan of a writer is some sort of notice as to when a new book is coming out – a blub on website, blog, even when it’s set, amazon puts an available July ’08, etc. on upcoming titles and I can make a note to watch for it.If a reader likes a writer’s work, they are not going to stop reading that writer even if it’s 2 or 3 years between books.I think you should just keep sloughing and stop torturing yourselves.Happy New Year!

    Reply
  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lorraine!!! You’re killing me. Stop torturing ourselves? How would we ever get any writing done?

    But seriously, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who is grateful for your wise words. It’s a lovely relief to hear that readers will stick around and wait for us. I was probably wrong about that. But I’m not so very sure publishers will.

    On the other hand, you may be absolutely right that we – authors – just put the pressure on to torture ourselves.

    I don’t want to tell tales on the great Margaret Maron, but what the hell, as long as you don’t take it any farther than here.

    She’s NOT slow. Really. She’s phenomenal under a deadline, and I’ve seen up up close and personal.

    She just has to torture herself, like, ahem, some of the rest of us.

    A very Happy New Year to you, too.

    Reply
  14. Stacey Cochran

    I think balance in life and performing psychologically at one’s optimum are two keys to happiness.

    If I get into a funk for more than a few days, it’s usually a sign that I need to take action.

    By organizing the Raleigh, Charlotte, and Wilmington Write to Publish Groups, producing the TV show, teaching at State, loving my wife and son, writing a novel or so per year, and attending a regular critique group, I’ve found a balance that keeps me moving, focused, and driven.

    And happy.

    Most days.

    Happy New Years, Alex, Dusty, Pari, Naomi, Toni, Louise, Lorraine, and JT! Here’s hoping this year will be awesome for you!

    SC

    Reply
  15. Shannon

    Well…now I’m totally depressed. Alex – I loved your book and was thrilled to meet you in CA this summer. However, it’s tough to read that you really don’t like writing that much when I would give my left toe to be able to write more! What a bummer. I hope the New Year renews you with a passion for a craft that you are so good at.

    To all the Murderati bloggers…Happy New year! I have LOVED getting on Murderati as often as possible. You inspire, entertain and educate me on a regular basis. Best wishes for a GREAT 2008.

    Reply
  16. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Thanks, Shannon.

    Please don’t get me wrong – I’ve got tons of passion for writing. But having passion for something – or someone – isn’t the same thing as LIKING someone or something, right?

    I try to be honest about how I feel about the writing process because – I hope – it can help other people who want to write. For example, if you’re not writing as much as you want to be writing, maybe it’s because you’re thinking that you have to LIKE it. Believe me, you don’t.

    My drive to write is the enormous responsibility I feel to my characters and their stories. It’s a transcendent thing to give them the lives they deserve. Huge joy – when I’m done. That’s a whole lot more rewarding than liking writing.

    Reply

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