With The Smoke Hunter well and truly launched, I’m on to the next thing. What that is, precisely, I’m not yet at liberty to say. But I can share a bit about both the glory and the degradation of this stage of the writing process.
Outlining is fun. Really! It’s anything-goes time, when I should be able to dive into researching all sorts of obscure bits of history, mythology and folklore while I weave together plot points and characters. The end result is generally a happy mess in desperate need of trimming and polishing, but then, that’s the other half of the fun.
So what’s the tough part?
It’s not a fast process–or at least, it shouldn’t be. To outline well means to give yourself as much space and time as you need to fully develop your characters, flesh out your story, explore possible interconnections, and follow false leads. But when you’re just starting out in this writing business–and most of us do not start out with a nice five or six figure advance that enables ditching the day job and hitting Expedia to plan your research jags–time is at a damned premium.
I also happen to be a mother with two daycare-aged kids at home, and a household income that requires me to work one of those dreaded ‘day jobs’.
This is the sort of stuff we professional authors aren’t generally supposed to talk about, but it’s the real story for most all of us who haven’t hit the best seller lists yet. You don’t necessarily turn into a full-time writer the minute your first book hits the shelves, and that can make crafting the next tome far more challenging. Because with the first one, the only people eagerly waiting to read it were your significant other and possibly your cat (if you have a very patient and supportive cat). You could take ten years to make it a complete masterpiece (*cough* Susanna Clarke *cough cough*) and nobody would know the difference.
But with your second book, it’s harder to shake the awareness that this time, there are indeed people waiting for that manuscript–however patiently. There’s a very tangible pressure to produce, even if that pressure is only coming from inside yourself, and not from your gracious agent and editor.
The sense of hurry, folks, is the murderer of creative energy.
I am fully aware of the proper answer to this dilemma. It is for me to take a deep breath, relax, and pretend time is the last thing that matters in this business. I can choose to spend whatever hours I do have available–even if they are less than I might like–as though they came in infinite supply. I can deny rush and pressure space in my head when I work, and give that work permission to take as long as it requires to come to fruition.
This is obviously more easier said than done.
But it is the only way to move forward with a firm commitment to the craftsmanship and quality of what I do, and if I lose that, I’ve lost the whole point, really. The only way this continues to be fun is if I can take pride in what I do, and if it ceases to be fun, then it’s time to toss it and go to Denmark for that underwater archaeology degree.