Yeah, okay, so: writing.
I have usually gone through periods of feast or famine in my writing (well, in my life, too, but that's another story -- isn't it?). I would work sporadically on a project at the beginning, nudging it around, sniffing out its edges, figuring out what sort of beast it wanted to be. At some point the thing would either not become something and I would move on, or it would find itself and take hold, and I would work more diligently.
My pattern for many years has been to go to a coffee shop with a pen and a yellow legal pad and write a few pages. I would come home and transcribe them into the computer (I am a staunch WordPerfect user and believe MS Word is a hideous infection foisted upon an ignorant world eager to settle for crap so long as it is free crap; I say this not out of blind loyalty but as someone who earned a living as a professional word processor for lawyers, doctors, and universities for a very long time). I'd revise the handwritten draft as I typed it in and then I'd print it out. Next day I'd bring those pages to the coffee shop, revise them, write new stuff on a yellow legal pad, and then come home, enter the revisions and the new stuff in the computer, and repeat the process. I tried to do this every day but of course life gets in the way.
I would have long spells where I got stuck. I'd painted myself into a corner, or I required something in the book about which I was ignorant and I'd stop and do a ton of research and then go on. Sometimes I would be surprised to find I was simply not emotionally or experientially ready for some undertaking. I stopped Elegy Beach for six months when I hit the latter sections with Pete, because I just wasn't ready for it. The writer part of me had been rubbing its hands and eager to get hold of this chewy stuff, and I was startled to realize my heart was not yet up to it.
This process gets books done but not terribly quickly. Add to that an ambivalence about writing that grew over the years. It temporarily resolved when I stopped writing for five years, but it came back -- not when I returned to writing (because that was fun) but when I returned to trying to publish what I wrote.
(Aside: I am constantly confronted with misinformation and assumptions about my career and biography. The easy public perception is that I published two novels and then quit for twenty-five years but felt that somehow the world needed a sequel to Ariel and so returned to writing. The truth is more complex and more interesting: I stopped my career dead in 1986 in my mid-20s by buying back a novel from a publisher in a dispute (The Geography of Dreams, which was to be the continuation of The Architect of Sleep, about which do not email me). This was a dramatic, triumphant, and idiotic move that fairly cost me my career. More victories like that and you lose the war. I continued writing all kinds of things, and during this supposed dry stretch I wrote ten novels, four feature screenplays, comic books for Marvel, and I don't know what else. I did not even begin learning to DJ until about 2000; the bio detail that I left publishing to pursue it, which I continually encounter in reviews and online, somehow manages to avoid that 14-year gap between 1986 and 2000. It's just that people don't see you on the one shelf in their bookstore that they look for you in, and therefore you must have fled or quit. Harlan Ellison once told me I'd had the damnedest career. I'm sure he meant the pun.)
Okay, so what about now? What about all this change?
When my Acer recently went kerflooey (see previous post) and I used the opportunity to repair it and make it my standalone music station, I bought a nice new Core i5 tower and a very nice monitor and upgraded from XP Pro to Win 7 and looked at the tabula rasa of that hard drive and though about the opportunity it presented to build from a new foundation. I didn't realize that I was wanting this in ways that had nothing to do with computers. And after I dialed in the new PC I resumed working on Avalon Burning, the new Change novel, pretty much as I had always done.
I reread what I'd done and liked it a lot but had no idea where I was going with it. This is very unusual for me. Once I get going I just know the book. It's written in my head and the rest is a kind of transcription. I become amanuensis to myself. It's weird but hardly unique. But here I was with this book underway and not only did I not know its destination, I wasn't even sure what kind of vessel I was on.
Then one day I was at the coffee shop and staring at the pages and it just opened up. The whole thing expanded and organized and established itself, bedrock, framework, walls, and decorations. I couldn't believe it. It was like buying an empty lot and staring at it until a house inflated from the ground. It was one of the happiest days I'd had in a long time.
I decided to try to write it in a month.
That means ten pages a day, every day, and that's for a novel about 25% shorter than I usually write. That means no coffee shops, no stopping for massive research. It means damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. It means being perfectly willing to write embarrassingly bad prose and laughably ignorant facts. It means not indulging myself the way I usually do by taking trips to depicted places and making notes and taking pictures and immersing myself. In the case of Avalon Burning this isn't a problem because I'm pretty familiar with the places I'm writing about.
The thing is, writing is important, but revision is crucial. In many cases it's where the real artistry emerges. The flow of events, the meter of sentences, trimming down excess, tightening structure, maintaining continuity, interspersing lines and images and events that maintain themes. I love revision, and I've even taught classes about how to revise. It helps writers to know that it's okay to suck on your first draft. No one will read it. No one has to see you flopping around in your underwear and Godzilla slippers. You're gonna take those pages to the gym and get them in shape and put them in good clothes and take them somewhere nice. But first you have to have the pages to work with.
I've fantasized all my career about writing a book in a ridiculously short time. It just has a speed-driven, burned-at-the-edges, fanatical obsessive impassioned appeal. It's romantic and stupid but there it is. Kerouac did it, Phil Dick did it constantly, Dave Schow used to tell me it was fun to challenge himself to do it. So hellwiddit.
I locked myself in my room and started banging out. Now let me be clear: I am not making my quota and am not going to get this book done in a month. First of all because it's clear it's going to be my usual 125,000-word length or so. Second because I do have to deal with other stuff, and the romance of sealing myself in a tower with a bottle of wine and a crusty baguette and a roll of butcher paper threaded through my Smith-Corona just isn't realistic.
So maybe it'll take me two months. I'm okay widdat.
I'm in the middle of it right now and I am having an absolute god damned blast.
I don't usually talk much about books I'm working on (I have a bunch of reasons, but one of them is that they don't always end up published, yuckity yuck yuck), but I think I will be reporting in on this one. Hope you enjoy the dispatches.