Some of you will probably remember that in the not-too-distant past, I blogged here about a young character who had taken over my life–rearranging my cooking and exercise habits to suit himself, waking me up late at night to whisper secrets in my ear. Well, the secrit projekt he was a part of is a secret no longer–it’s live.
It’s called Shadow Unit, and it’s an experimental interactive hyperfiction modeled on a television show, and the fan community for a television show, and, well–go look. Poke around. There are many concealed goodies, and (so far) novellas by Emma Bull and myself, with more to come from (Storytellersunplugged’s own) Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, and Amanda Downum.
But that project, as much as I love it and as excited as I am about it, is not what I’m here to talk to you about today.
No, I’m here to talk about the horror of deadlines, and the kind of books one is not excited to be writing, because they feel like albatrossi around one’s neck.
You see, I have one now. And I’m sweating it. The deadline was originally set for April 15, but it was evident as early as last year that I wasn’t going to make that happen. I’ve gotten an extension to June 1, and I’m scared to death about it. I have characters, and a sort of plot, and a setting… and I don’t have a book. It’s not ripe yet. All the disparate pieces are floating around in my head, but they’re not yet soup, if you know what I mean: they’re just chunks of potatoes and onions and meat and uncooked, crunchy barley. I am, to make it absolutely plain, trying to write this book too soon.
And I don’t really have a choice about it.
Because I have a contract, and the cat has to eat.
When a novel is really firing, it fills up my head. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else–getting bills paid, eating, remembering to bathe, talking to friends on the phone or the internet. I become irritable when interrupted by the fact that the coffeepot is empty. I become unbearable, I suspect: totally pwned by art. It’s a possessing force, and I get really, well, boring about it.
Currently, this book is more like the bright elusive butterfly of love. I catch glimpses of it, flitting around, and it throws me occasional cool things. (Like “Cyberleeches!” and “Baby Mammoth!”) and then flits away again, refusing to be, you know, a narrative. So it’s just a collection of Cyberleeches! and Baby Mammoths!
And I’m not quite sure what to do about that.
Except persist, I guess.
This is where the professionalism comes in, and I keep telling myself that. That craftsmanship and hard work carry you over the places where inspiration fails. But man, it’s hard to keep writing seven hundred or a thousand words a day when you feel like it’s all flat, and it’s not moving the story forwards because you don’t feel like you know what the story is, and none of the characters are very interesting at all.
Of course, the funny thing is, looking back, I felt exactly this same way about Undertow, which is nominated for the Dick Award (Yes, I’m twelve, and I love typing that) this year. Like I was just groping forwards, with no sense of what was going on here, and none of that certainty that knowing the story brings. (I know the story in Shadow Unit. It’s in my bones. I can feel where that one is going, with trainwreck inevitability, and it’s exciting and so what I want to be working on. But alas, that is not what I am promised to perform, and it’s also not what pays the bills.)
So I guess I will persist, and get through this, and I will have to rely on somebody else to tell me if I’ve written a publishable novel or not.
I wonder if I can get it done by deadline. Because I would really like to have this albatross off my neck.
It makes me tired.
And because the perversity of the universe tends toward a maximum, I think that in the course of this extended whinge, I may have figured out one of the things I was doing wrong. I’m trying to make the dratted thing make sense, and be rigorously logical, and it’s just not that kind of book. It’s a gonzo book, and it needs a gonzo attitude.
…huh. Maybe I can do something with this, after all.