Sticking With the Plan

When I finished editing the second draft of Trollbooth a month ago, I realized I had a few different projects I needed to work on this year.  Some of them have firm deadlines; others are more open-ended, but all are important to me.  I want them finished, and I want to share them.  I can’t do that when I’m bouncing from story to story, letting only my muse guide me along.  Ideas get smothered by newer ideas.  Life distracts.  And let’s face it, writers are always telling themselves stories, even when they don’t write them down.  That’s why I call my “hopper” of ideas The Imaginary Playground.  It really is like grade-school recess in my mind, with bunches of ideas all doing different things as they clamor for my creative attention.

So I decided what I needed was a plan, and not just the kind where, daily, I say, “Okay, tomorrow I’m going to work on insert title here.  I needed something I can look at, because I’m much more accountable if said accounting takes place outside my mind.  To that end, I created a document called The Manifest.

Just like a list of cargo on a ship or truck, The Manifest is a listing of all the projects I’m currently working on, plus all the projects I want to work on for the rest of this year and beyond.  There are 15 items on it; 8 of them have project start and project end dates on them.  The other 7 are organized with labels like “Fall 2015,” or “maybe 2015?” or even simply “2016.”

Seeing my creative work in such a stark and un-artistic list is strange, but I tell you what, it’s helping.  I’m much more aware of how much I can get done in a given amount of writing sessions.  I’m always motivated because to waste that time is to invalidate a big portion of how I live my life.  And on top of that, The Manifest isn’t held, updated, or audited by anybody else, so it can be a little loose.  If I need a few more days for a project, that can be done.  If I find I need a month or more, I can schedule it into The Manifest so I’ll actually get back to it with a vengeance.  That kind of thing is important to me, and now I feel like I have less worry on my mind.

Tomorrow I will return to Trollbooth.  I’ve pencilled in 2 months for the typing up of 2nd draft changes and the 3rd draft (hopefully faster) edit.  It seems like a reasonable amount, but I’ll see as I go along.  My goal is to be done before my vacation in May.  Today I need to find a good stopping place for the story I’ve been working on (a new novel called Werebear!) and then make myself enough notes so I can figure out what the hell I was talking about, when I get back to the story later this year.  I think that’s both fair and do-able, to myself, my priorities, and the demands of my life.


Thinking Upon a Mockingbird

8ySkdLike most folks, I was pretty damn surprised when I read about Harper Lee releasing a new book.  It’s not the kind of thing I’d given thought to in more than 15 years; I’d pretty much decided Ms. Lee had only the one in her (a totally bizarre concept to a guy like me, with a whole playground full of characters screaming for attention each time I lift the lid off the creative aether), and that was that.  If you’re going all-in, you could do a lot worse than To Kill a Mockingbird.  

Giddiness set in once the shock wore off.  The very same kind I felt last year when I learned about the forthcoming J.D. Salinger books.  I mean, not one but two of the most known 20th-century literary figures with more to give?  It’s candy to a creative mind, even if it’s a flavor you dislike…and me, I like both Salinger and Lee.

Next came what I always think of as pop-culture wariness.  I distrust the tidal surges of current sentiment as a rule, and this new book’s release is already getting comparisons as a literary event to the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  That kind of hype turns me off, and I didn’t want to be turned off to what could potentially be a fun read.

Finally an unsettling question popped up: am I remembering Harper Lee’s work from the standpoint of experience, or is it the thrust of our culture influencing me, suggesting I “should” like To Kill a Mockingbird because everybody else does?  The answer there is I’m not sure.  The last time I read that book I was in high school.  I remember it being more accessible than a lot of the novels we read, but I recall absolutely nothing of the language, the structure, and the rest of the little things writers often read for as much as a good story.

I’ve decided I need to:

(A) Find out what’s what.  I’ll do this by rereading TKaM before the new book’s release, and decide how I feel about the work as a whole.
(2) Keep an open mind.  I’m going to look on the sunny side and hope for a well-written, entertaining story, not an earth-shatting-holy-shit-why-didn’t-she-write-more? book.  Chances are, TKaM is too culturally ascended for popular comparison.

And that’s what I’m going to do.  Make up my own mind about the whole thing.  I hope you will, too.  Please don’t compare a trans-generational-classic to Go Set a Watchman.  Read it as its own entity, whole and complete by itself.  Allow it to surprise, thrill, entertain, annoy, irritate, or bore you honestly, based only on its merits.  To do else is injustice toward an honest piece of hard work.


P.S. for my grammarian friends, the A-and-2 was intentional, and for you.