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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Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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