So, I had a fun brief flyby at Readercon today; wish I could have stayed longer. And yet, glad to be home.
Conventions seem to have themes, much as stories do--WisCon this year had a joint theme--Unlikely Hello Kitty Marketing and Class Issues. By theme, by the way, I mean a sort of emergent conversation, a thing that comes up over and over. Some of it is conversations feeding off conversations, and some of it is just plain synchronicity. And I'm sure some of it is just our brain sensing the pattern that matches whatever is preoccupying us. The hammer/nail issue. Perception affects reality.
The one that followed me around Readercon today was one regarding productivity, and it's got me thinking. Gavin (Grant) opined that it's better to write fifteen brilliant novels than a hundred pretty good ones. I think he's right. Peter (Watts) teased me about my fits of writing mania. Judith (Berman) said something about wanting a metric other than word count to track her productivity.
It all kind of clicked in my head into a revelation about how and why I write.
Wordcount is a crappy metric. It doesn't tell you anything about what you've accomplished, about whether it's any good, about any of that stuff. The reason I track it is because it shuts up my inner demons when I do, because it is something concrete that I can point to and say, "No, I am accomplishing something." Because otherwise, sometime around the second month of work, my demon says "You haven't done shit." And I need a piece of paper that I can wave under its nose that says "No, I wrote five thousand words this week. And five thousand the week before."
Because otherwise I succumb to despair.
truepenny, and various others, have commented that I only have two modes--total commitment, or a fine and benevolent unconcern. It's probably not healthy, but this is true. And I'm like that with everything--friendships, exercise, jobs, causes. And especially with the writing. I can't not do it--at least not for long--and when I do it, I can't do it with anything less than abject concentration. It's not dicipline; it's a contagion.
The people who know my process best know that the thing that drives me is not the writing, it's the finishing. And by finishing, I don't mean a draft. I mean a completed story, as good as I can make it. When I'm working, I literally can't do anything else happily. I obsess. I fret. I tend to wander off in the middle of conversations with people I really, really, really like because the book is taking over my brain, pressing to get out, controlling me like a puppeteer controls a marionette.
It's very uncomfortable. It is, in fact, a little compulsive. One of the things I've been trying to train myself to do for the last three years is to take time off, do other stuff, walk away. Go to the gym, go see a friend, go to a movie, watch a TV show, read a book, go for a walk. I've had some success with that, and it's good, because the thing I was doing before was killing me.
But that doesn't change the fact that any minute I spend doing something other than working on the unfinished book is a minute I wind up regretting and feeling frustrated for the loss of.
I come in for a fair amount of teasing for how fast I write. Of course, I don't--write fast, that is. I write a lot, which is different. There are people who can write 2K in an hour. I can write 2K in eight. The thing is, I will sit down and do that, if I have the time available. Because getting those words on the page is the only way I can get to the end of the story, and make it as perfect as I know how to make it.
And that, that thing--is what drives me. That finished story, or that finished book.
I write because I have to. Or, I have to storytell. I can divert the urge into running role playing games, sometimes for years at a time, but I have never in my entire life, since I was in first grade, been able to not tell stories. It makes me feel ill and out of sorts and cranky and snappish and unpleasant to be around. I hated myself for the five months last year and this that I was not writing, because there was too much else going on in my life and I just didn't have energy or time.
And then there's that artistic, aesthetic drive. The one that wants everything I create to be a work of art, that doesn't let go until it's convinced it can't get the thing any better. And which gets intensely frustrated by how much is outside its skills. Because it is not perfect; it is not capable of perfection. Nobody is. And there's a point where fussing with the book doesn't actually fix anything about the book; it's just fussing. (Sometimes that's the third draft; sometimes it's the twentieth.)
But that thing in my head that tells stories isn't willing to believe that. On the other hand, I am lucky in that when the story is *done,* the engine in my head walks away. It has no interest in finished stories. They are dead to it. They have no juice.
The concrete has set, and the house is built.
On the other hand, it's becoming slowly domesticated. It still hates to be taken away from its work, but it's willing to forgive me now when the book isn't perfect, as long as it was my best effort when I wrote it.
But then again, telling stories is the only thing I've ever really cared about. It's what I do. It's what I am. I don't have other passions; I'm not a polymath.
I am Paul Simon's one-trick pony. So I had better make it one motherfucker of a trick.
None of this, of course, is intended to imply that anyone else's process must be anything like mine. Or that my process is somehow better than anyone else's, or produces better work. Because I'm pretty sure it isn't, and I know for a fact that it doesn't.
But it's what I've got. So I live with it. And if I'm cranky and distracted and not paying attention when you call me, I'm sorry. It's not you. It's that the book is eating my brain and it's probably better if you just right now left me alone.
I join my name on that solid line and it always costs.