Five Bits of (Maybe Useless) Advice

I’m under huge copyedit crunch, but it’s my day to post at the Deadline Dames. So, in honor of the occasion (if by “occasion” one means “feeling like my head is going to explode and that would be welcome because I would be DEAD and not worrying about these GODDAMN things”) here’s Five Bits of (Maybe Useless) Advice About Being a Working Writer:

5. No matter how much you love your book, be prepared to get sick of it. After at least two (sometimes as many as five or six or God forbid more) drafts, at least one (but likely more) revision letter(s), copyedits where some poor soul goes through and checks every damn comma, and proof pages where you search for typos, dropped words, and stets that didn’t make it through, you will become so fucking sick of this book you will want to stab it, pour petrol on it, light it, and stamp on it while singing a stabby-burny song and mutilating it afresh with your red-hot spurs of discontent. This is normal. If you can’t handle hating your own work or getting so sick of a project you literally want to put your fist through a brick wall (or someone’s head), this is not the career for you. Every goddamn job has aspects you won’t like. Finding the way to make them palatable is how we amuse the gods (and each other, most often on reality TV).

4. Your editor, your copyeditor, the Marketing folks, and the Production department are NOT your enemies. Your editor will tell you that parts of the work are weak and need to be fixed. Your copyeditor will make you feel like a goddamn fool by catching every punctuation error you ever thought of committing, plus a few you don’t even know how the hell happened. The Marketing folks will rub you the wrong way with cover copy, cover design, too much or too little publicity (or too much of the wrong publicity, or too little of the right publicity, or some other damn thing). Production will give you short turnaround dates, or piss you off in some way over something. This is normal. Working with other people is a goddamn hassle.

Get over it.

Editor, copyeditor, Marketing, Production–they have one goal. That is to make this book they’re working on right now the best book it can be. They are in the trenches at your side. They are your buddies, your comrades, your platoon. They may get on your nerves, but they are looking out for you the best way they know how, especially when the bullets come flying. It’s a feather in their caps when your book goes well. No matter how pissed off you are, remember they are not your enemies, that their priority is to make your book shine as much as it can, and they may see things you don’t. Don’t fire on them.

3. Sometimes you’ve got to turn the goddamn Internet off. Need I say more? I love Freedom. It was the best $10 I ever spent for my productivity.

What’s that? You in the back? What? But what if I need to research something while the Internet’s off? Mark it in the manuscript with a [[ thing I need to research ]] and move on. Get past it, and when you’re on the Net again, then look it up and search for [[ or ]] in your manuscript. Getting dragged into looking up the sex habits of Arctic flesh-eating bacteria is a slippery, slippery slope, my friends. You could lose days on that shit. (Or so I’ve heard.)

2. Decide on your stress tolerance early. Someone once told me that everyone has a certain tolerance for stress, and even if they arrange their lives to hit below that threshold, they will create shit to stress over until they hit the level they’re geared toward. “You don’t lower your stress,” he continued, staring into his bourbon. “You lower your tolerance.” Which was great advice, and I wish I’d thought to write down his phone number. Because he was pretty good-looking too, and he had a nice leather jacket.

Ahem. Anyway. Look not at your stress, young Padawans. Look at your tolerance, and see if you’re creating more stress for yourself by fretting over some aspects of your writing/writing career/whatever. Then start interrupting the stress-wave before it starts to build. Get up and dance, or something, scream at your computer, go for a skydive. Whatever works.

1. Give yourself some tiny rewards. I bargain with myself so often, it’s like I’m fricking Mephistopheles on crack trying to damn myself. “Set the timer. Ten minutes, and I can read the latest Girl Genius.” Or, “Fifteen more minutes, then you can roll on the floor with the dog and pretend you’re a poodle.” Or, “Another half-hour, and you can have a handful of Fritos.” Or, “Okay, Lili, if you get to 3K words, you can take the kids out for dinner so you don’t have to cook.” Or, “Get fifty pages of proofs out of the way and you can spend twenty minutes on Twitter making yourself look like an idiot.”

Hey, whatever works.

To consistently produce, I trick myself in a hundred little ways. I make it a game. I know my propensity for procrastination, but I don’t try to stop procrastinating–that’s impossible, and sets up a bound-to-fail diet mentality. Instead, I make the game all about rewarding myself for steady increments of work. I try to outwit myself. A certain amount of dragging my feet is necessary creative fuel, a sort of counterweight to my urge to go full speed ahead until I turn into a flaming wreck. Also, I enjoy the challenge of finding little ways to hoodwink myself, kind of like only focusing on the next three minutes on the treadmill. Each three-minute chunk adds up, and before I realize it I’ve run five miles.

So, give yourself teensy rewards. It really is all about tricking yourself into consistency.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve lingered long enough. I promised myself that if I could get this post written, I’d have earned a square of choco before I dive back into the copyedits. (See what I did there? SEE?)

Good luck, kids. Over and out.

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