Prolific, No Choice

NaNoWriMo proceeds apace. I dumped out 6k on Ghost Squad #2 yesterday, but realized late in the evening that I have to go back and change a Rather Significant Plot Point in order to make the rest of the book hang as it needs to. That will be today’s work, I should think, plus some cleanup.

Reader mail comes in waves. I’ve been getting a lot of the “How are you so prolific?” questions lately. Which is odd, because I’m working at about half productivity right now due to ongoing pandemic stress, and I hate it. But I did take a look at things, and realized Working For the Devil–not my first published book, just my first trad-published book–came out in 2005.

That was a minute ago, wasn’t it. My stars.

So I’ve been around for a few years, which isn’t so rare. (Writers, as Tess Gerritsen once memorably pointed out, tend to die with their boots on.) But there’s also the fact that I do little else.

I started in this game back when submitting one’s manuscripts by email was just beginning to be standard practice. It was also the Wild Wild West era of Ellora’s Cave, and we all remember how that was.

…sorry, I just had of of those old lady “those were the days” moments.

Anyway, I had two toddlers and another dependent to feed, as well as the cats, and I had the dubious benefit of a spouse who simply wouldn’t get a job they felt beneath them. (Spoiler: This eventually turned into “wouldn’t get any job at all.”) Writing stories, which I’d always done, could occur at home while I raised and homeschooled two very young kids. I could fit paragraphs between the constant disasters of young childhood and the relentless backbreaking work of trying to keep the house fit for human habitation despite the best efforts of cats, human-toddler chaos emitters, and said spouse, who not only wouldn’t get a job but seemed bizarrely determined to undercut any success I could find, too.

Which was odd, because by then I was the one paying the bills, so said spouse’s behavior seemed counterproductive at best. Anyway, I wrote anything possible for anyone who would pay me, and sometimes I even think of those days fondly.

I learned, as they say, a lot.

Fast-forward a couple years, I was beginning to get some real traction and the divorce was well underway. Which eased some pressure–instead of three dependents, the cats, and a constant battle cleaning up after and putting up with said spouse, I only had three dependents and the cats to support with a notoriously fickle career in a highly competitive industry, where returns on investment dribble in over months at best and years at worst.

If I’d had the time to think about it, I might’ve considered giving up.

The kids went into public school, and eventually my dependent count dropped to two. The cats stayed about the same, but a dog came along. Things eased up to the point where I could, with a lot of luck, get us moved into the current chez. But it was never certain. I had to produce at a frenetic pace just to keep the lights on, the new mortgage paid, and some milk in the fridge.

Now, I had (and still have) a great many advantages. I’ve been writing stories all my life so I had some practice, and I managed to keep an internet connection all through the entire deal. The spouse, when they’d had a job, was fond of technological gadgets, so I had what passed for a reasonable laptop until I could generate some income and get better tech.

I still have that original Asus laptop in a file cabinet drawer. The thing gave signal service, and the duct tape shows it.

I got a lot of lucky breaks; because I was desperate I used every one of them. I read slush, I edited and charged per page, and I wrote cover copy on the side while learning the ropes of small-press and trad at high speed. I lucked into an agent–I was such a baby writer I didn’t even know she was offering me representation during our first phone call.

So I was incredibly privileged and fortunate, even if it was never a sure thing and the stress was mind-boggling. I managed to keep the lights on, but it meant I literally didn’t have time for anything else.

No telly. Very few cons or events–which truth be told I didn’t miss, between the hassle of getting childcare and the ever-present harassment. No real hobbies or leisure. Tried dating a couple times, but my workload (and, let’s be fair, probably my personality) put paid to that.

So I parented, I wrote, I made deadlines, I read history and research when I could, and I fell into bed after eighteen-hour days for a few fitful hours of tossing before I got up and did it all again, for years. Was it great practice? Yes. Did it keep us fed? Yes.

Would I do it again? I hope I never have to. I had what amounted to a breakdown during the divorce and went into therapy–cash pay, with a therapist who had a sliding scale, but part of my privilege lays in knowing things like that are even an option, so I was operating with a distinct advantage.

All of this is not an origin story. Women all over the world do far more with much less every day. This is just to explain that I’m prolific because I had (and still have) no choice. I don’t write, we don’t eat, and good gods but the dogs love eating. Not to mention the kids.

Things are way easier now. The kids are older and contributing to the household to keep us on more or less an even keel. I’ve achieved some small success in my chosen field, and all those years of sleepless, laser-focused intensity are paying off–though said payoff is invested right back into the career keeping us afloat, as has been the case for years.

I still don’t watch a lot of telly other people do, even with streaming. I still put in eighteen-hour days, just far less often. I do now have semi-hobbies–I knit and cook, for example, and hot-glue googly eyes to things–but the fact remains most of my time is spent writing. I haven’t really slowed down, though several outside stressors have either vanished or been mitigated. I’m highly productive because I have to be in order to feed us all, and because I literally don’t do anything else.

It’s not bad. I’m doing the thing I was meant and made for, so the work is often enjoyable. Lots of people have it worse. I’ve never really thought of stopping–for one thing, I’m not fit for human consumption most days, so an office or retail job would quickly founder under my atrophied ability to put up with entitled customer or middle-manager bullshit.

So, to answer the question, I’m prolific because I do little else but write and have for almost two decades now. In other words, “that’s my secret, Cap–I’m always working.”

I don’t intend to stop anytime soon. It’s a helluva career, but it’s mine and after all this time I’m peculiarly fond of it. I look forward to telling you many more stories. Maybe one day I’ll get some spare time…

…but don’t bet on it. I suspect I’ll die, as Gerritsen says, with my boots on.

So to speak.

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