Charlie’s Hot Saturday Afternoon

Charles StrossCharles Stross is a big noise in sci­ffy land right now. There is some debate (at least, in my head) about wheth­er or not I’m a sci­ffy writer, so I don’t feel too bad about nev­er hav­ing read any of his stuff. I did meet Charlie at a sci­ence fic­tion con­ven­tion, how­ever, and shook his hand; since then, I’ve been fol­low­ing his blog. He recently pub­lished a post on how life con­spires to stop you from writ­ing. This is some­thing that has been on my mind for a few weeks now, so I thought I’d quote a couple of appos­ite remarks.

One of the curses of writ­ing for a liv­ing is that life doesn’t stop while you’re try­ing to wrestle a story into sub­mis­sion. In fact, I could prob­ably work a reg­u­lar 40 hour week as a writer without actu­ally writ­ing any fic­tion. Where does the time go?

This is oh so true. Luckily, I have a part­ner who does not com­plain when, after a day sit­ting at my desk with my fore­head bleed­ing or doing stuff writ­ing-related but not really writ­ing, I have to work through the even­ing to get my daily word­count done.

If you’re a mid­list author (one with maybe five or more books in print, but not a best-seller: you make a liv­ing, but you’re prob­ably driv­ing a ten year old banger unless your car is your main recre­ation­al expendit­ure) then your pub­lish­er prob­ably alloc­ates a mar­ket­ing budget to your books con­sist­ing of five tulip bulbs and a coat but­ton. That’s an exag­ger­a­tion, but not by much. They’ll prob­ably pur­chase a few tar­geted ads in some of the trade and enthu­si­ast magazines (like Locus or Asimovs), and they’ll send out review cop­ies and talk to the book chains, but you’re not get­ting any sign­ing tours or stretch limos with buck­ets of cham­pagne. You’re not even get­ting dump bins in the chain stores. (Those are expens­ive.) If you want your books to do well, you need to pro­mote them: not neces­sar­ily by get­ting out in pub­lic and hec­tor­ing people to buy them, but at the very least you need to prac­tice being friendly and help­ful to review­ers and mem­bers of the press, how­ever obscure their pub­lic­a­tions are

Here’s anoth­er dose of real­ity:

Now I’m run­ning late on the next book — due on my editor’s desk on September 1st, Or Else — with the first draft about 40% com­plete. There is, in prin­ciple, enough time to do a com­pet­ent job of fin­ish­ing it. Things look a bit more fraught if you factor in two weeks against an unsched­uled ill­ness (this is not the kind of job where you can out­source the heavy lift­ing to a temp­ing agency), and anoth­er three and a half weeks booked long in advance for a vaca­tion (and an SF con­ven­tion appear­ance) on anoth­er con­tin­ent. I sus­pect I’m going to be tak­ing the laptop on hol­i­day and work­ing in the hotel room, if I don’t want to blow the dead­line (with a knock-on effect on the two nov­els that are due in next year).

Can’t say I’ve got edit­ors knock­ing on my door for mater­i­al (not fic­tion edit­ors, any­way), but it’s become my habit to take my laptop with me on hol­i­day, for those dark minutes when every­one else has gone to sleep and an idea for a scene has swooped down on me. Though I might have all the time in the world, I can’t shake the feel­ing that every minute not spent on the book(s) is a minute wasted.

So: busi­ness as usu­al. Why am I wast­ing time blog­ging? Because … it’s not a waste of time. It’s time spent get­ting myself into a work­ing frame of mind, and it’s time spent com­mu­nic­at­ing with you, the read­ing pub­lic. Some folks read my blog because they liked the books, and some folks read my books because they liked the blog. Blogging is, in fact, a vital mar­ket­ing tool for mid­list writers these days (as oth­er authors, like Neal Asher — a few entries down from here — have figured out). There is no longer any pre­tense at there being a fourth wall between the show that is the writer’s life and the audi­ence who read their work. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that writ­ing books has become a per­form­ance art, but it’s get­ting close.

No argu­ment here. And for my next trick, what? Chapters of Flashback need my atten­tion.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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