Friday, January 28, 2011

To Speed Up, Try Slowing Down

My problem right now is way too much left over birthday brownies (and okay, I should not have made the experimental peanut butter frosting with baker's chocolate drizzle...) and too little sleep. It also might be silent migraine day.

I was going to post an exercising in finding your own definition of quality -- by my head is buzzing a bit, and so I'm going to talk about something else.

I'm thinking a lot these days about being in a hurry. It's a problem. Yes, as writers we need to GET THINGS DONE. We need to apply seat to chair and get to work. We need to take care of business and market and promote, and not lose a minute. At the same time, we've got to be careful of being in too much of a hurry. That's something that I think is tripping up a lot of indie authors right now. Everything is moving so fast, and there's so much to do and all this excitement.

One of my favorite business books is called Cut To the Chase and it's all about how to skip past the garbage and speed up and be more productive. There are 101 little 2-3 page tips/lessons in it, and one really important one is this:

To speed up... slow down.

The author, Stuart R. Levine, tells the story of a manufacturing plant that makes reeds for musical instruments. In their process there was a step for cutting the reeds, and another for smoothing them. What they found was that when they sped up the cutting process, the smoothing process took a extra time. But when they slowed down the cutting process, the cut could be so precise and smooth that they could skip the smoothing process altogether.

Or, to use an old metaphor: one woman makes a perfect baby in nine months, but nine women can't make one at all in one month. Or even two. You can't rush some things.

Another story told to me by Kate Wilhelm. She had a student who was a promising young writer with very good ideas. So good, in fact, that he was able to do the impossible -- as a first time newbie writer, he sold a book he had not written, based on a synopsis and sample chapter.

Great! He had an advance to fund his writing! Except that it was his first book, and he had to write it on a schedule, which turned out to be a little tight. Not that the book suffered. It was great, and the editor loved it, and even though he was barely finished with it, the publishing company offered him another contract for the next book. Phew! Money! That was great....

Except that he barely had time to finish the first book before he was already behind on the next. And soon he found himself on a treadmill -- because he was always running out of money, he was never in a position to stall or bargain. He always had to accept that contract offer NOW, and he accepted less than stellar contracts. And eventually his writing suffered.

He finally had to quit his successful career and go live in his Mom's basement for a year and write a whole book on spec -- no contract -- which is what he should have done in the first place. Once he had the book in hand, he was in a much better position to bargain, and he was no longer behind the eightball with every single thing he did.

Fourth story: Colonel Alois Podhajski was director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna (you know, the one with the Lipizzaner stallions?) from 1939 to 1960-something. He wrote a wonderful book on training horses. He advised that you don't put an advanced rider on a young horse, for fear he would get bored and try to push the horse too fast to doing more interesting things. He cited the case of a talented young stallion that they found could physically handle the more advanced moves, and they trained him in the airs above the ground while he was still too young... and the horse used it against them. When he didn't want to do something, he'd rise into the levade and just squat there, and they couldn't do get him to do anything. A talented horse wasted by hurry.

There is a kind of hurrying that we do as writers, though, that is less obvious than teaching a young horse old tricks or signing a contract you aren't ready for.


When you think too much, it can feel like you're not hurrying at all. (Because, after all, you're not getting things done.) But consider this: when you've got a lot on your plate, you might start feeling overwhelmed -- or you might just feel excited about all the opportunities out there -- and your brain starts to race with thoughts on how to deal with it. And when you start thinking about it more and more, you start doing things like, oh, counting your chickens before they hatch (which I suppose could be a fifth story for this post), and pretty soon you've at least mentally signed a contact with yourself.

And then you're suddenly in a hurry. Your over-thinking has led you down the garden path of pricing and marketing and networking and writing blogs and websites and advertising and you're doing them too fast and too soon, and the more success you have the faster you try to do it. It can be like riding a speeding train which you don't fully control, and you may end up someplace you don't want to be.

To be an overnight success may not be so good for you. So maybe a little less hurry. Give yourself time to learn and observe, and don't over think. Let things unfold while you get ready.

Me? I'm correcting my course on my writing goals again. Oh, not the short term. I think I've got the right things lined up for the next few months.

But I was getting clever in thinking about my publishing schedule. I have a lot of partly finished Mick and Casey novellas and novelettes. These would be ideal for my "publish something once a month" goal. But I started to over-think it. I started to think, "Oh, but if I publish them all at once, it will be a long time before I get to the next Mick and Casey story after that. I want to keep my readers interested, so I should dole them out slowly and write other things...."

I was also thinking that I want to hold off on publishing The Man Who Did Too Much until I had the second book lined up -- because I know it's a slow story to write.

And I finally smacked myself on the head and said, "Why are you doing this? If you write all the Mick and Casey stories you have now, then there will be a bunch of fun Mick and Casey stories out there for the readers to enjoy sooner. Why dole them out slowly even if there is a gap in the series later on?"

As for Man Who and others, I've got WAY too many books to write to waste mental energy on what gets published a year from now. Nothing I write is going to have a good follow up until after I've cleared my plate and can write a good follow up. So get started and write whatever comes out now. Get it out there and out of the way.

I don't think my body of work will actually have a mature shape until sometime in 2012 at least. My mix of genres is not going to make sense until then. So why pretend otherwise. Just get through the pile and build the thing, THEN worry about shaping it.

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