The Undiversified Writer


Several full-time writers have been talking on their blogs about how they make a living. John Scalzi for one, Tobias Buckell for another, and Chuck Wendig for a third[1] have mentioned that they make sure they have several pots on the boil at once.

I don’t have that. It turns out that I’m much too slow a writer[2] for that. I turned in Circle of Enemies to Del Rey seven months late. That’s shameful, but luckily they were careful to set my real deadline quite a bit farther out, so I didn’t suffer the career disaster that, arguably, I should have.

And the truth is, CoE was a really difficult book to write. I don’t know if I’ve blogged about the book in this way, but it’s better than anything I’ve ever written. Briefly: Ray’s successes draw attention to him and someone strikes at him through the people he knew; he discovers that his old car-stealing crew has acquired magic–magic that may be killing them–and he has to return to L.A. to find out what’s going on. It gets deeper into the nature of magic, it reveals a bit more of the society, but most of the book is about his complicated relationship with these people who used to be his whole life. (Plus face-punching, as always).

And now I’m revising Twenty Palaces and let me tell you, revision is the sort of thing that expands to fill all the available time I have. I can write 500, 1K, 1.5K words[3] of first draft and spend the rest of my day reading or being a human being, but when I have a revision in front of me it’s all I want to work on until I’m done. How the hell would I have a second income stream (assuming I could even think of what I could be writing besides fantasy fiction) when I’m so damn slow?

[1] Three dudes. Hm. I have quite a few female authors on my LJ friends list, but I can’t recall a woman talking about this subject. Have I missed something in my little window on the internet or is this a guy thing?

[2] There’s a powerful tension between “This is how I am” and “Argue for your limitations and they’re yours” that I have to continually adjust. I’m trying to increase my productivity (and I know it can increase, because it’s better now than it used to be) while keeping my expectations realistic.

[3] Never more than that. Not unless I want to ruin the next day’s work.

6 thoughts on “The Undiversified Writer

  1. Paul

    Hi Harry,

    I just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed ‘Child of Fire’ and ‘Game of Cages’, bought as a result of your ‘guest blogger’ spot on Charlie Stross’ blog.

    Beyond Charlie’s Laundry books, I’m not normally into magic/fantasy books, being much more of a sci-fi fan, but yours are something different, and Ray is a compelling and interesting character.

    As a result, you’re now on my list of ‘authors whose new books must be purchased’. I look forward eagerly to the next instalment and wish you every success.

    Best Wishes,

  2. Q: So why are you “slow”? 1.5k words a day is great, and even if you alternate that with .5k a day, that’s reasonable.

    One of the things that trips me up is trying to get it right the first time. I will spend an hour on a single stupid sentence because it doesn’t sound right. And only a dozen people will ever read my sentences!

    Oddly, when I have a crazy deadline, I just write the best sentence I can at that moment knowing that either I will come back and fix it later – or that it’s probably all right to begin with.

    So I’m doing something crazy in July (if things go as planned) and I’m going to try to write a 2.5k article every day. Basically write a short novel’s worth of material in a month. I will probably fail. But if I get *close*, I’m going to try to write a short novel in a month in 2012. A pulpy action thing. Just for fun. I have this series character Roger Maxwell – I have 2 awful old novels about him and if I have a good 3rd one I’ll have a reason to rewrite the other 2… and then Kindle the suckers.

    I’m a fan of all of those pulp guys who just cranked stuff out, and maybe the Kindle original is the new pulp?

    But in July I plan to generate 50k in screenwriting articles.

    Then take a nap.

  3. One and a half thousand words is slow because a) I can’t do it every day or the story suffers and b) it’s just not a lot of novel.

    And I’m very, very glad to hear that you’re going to tackle a pulp action novel. I’ve been wanting to see something like this for a long time. Good luck with it.

    It’s not wrong to push yourself to do more (or it’s not for me, anyway) but I have a long way to go before I’ll consider myself average, speed-of-output-wise. But I wish I could be prolific.

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