Refilling the Well

I finished THE FIERY CITADEL, book two in my Forgotten Empires trilogy with St. Martins Press, sequel to THE ORCHID THRONE. Yeah, it doesn’t come out until 2020 – maybe summer? we don’t know – but I completed the first draft and sent it in to Editor Jennie. There will be more work to come, but that’s the big milestone to pass.

I promised myself this time that I’d take some time off before heading into the next project. More than the weekend. As a full-time author, I write five days a week, going for 3,000 – 3,500 words per day. It takes me an average of 3 – 4 hours to get that, with an overall elapsed time of about 6 hours, including breaks. I usually have a pretty tightly packed schedule, so finishing one book has meant diving right into the next. But I track my productivity pretty carefully – I can’t control my creative process, but I can learn all there is to know about it and plan accordingly (which is part of owning your process) – and I’ve discovered that the week after I finish writing a book draft tends to be unproductive.

Even when I schedule myself for my usual work week, the writing tends to feel like pulling teeth. My word counts are low, I screw around a lot, and I don’t really refill the well.

So this week I’ve been not writing. Yesterday I tackled the garage. We have this one corner with a built in workbench and set of shelves. When we moved in (lo, these ten years ago – sheesh), we stuffed a lot of stuff back in those shelves, especially the lower ones, and back in the deep corner where they form an L. The original plan was one side of the L (the long one) would be for David’s tools and the short side would be my garden bench. My husband, however, while possessing many sterling qualities, is almost pathologically incapable of organizing his stuff. So his workbench has been a mess since day one. In fact, it’s a more ancient mess than that, as he pretty much threw the existing mess of his workbench and garage stuff into bins when we moved and dumped it out here.

I keep a hammer and a few screwdrivers in my office, just so I can find them when I need one.

Not only is his workbench a nightmare, when he has no place to put anything – which is always – he’d stack it on my garden bench. It got so I couldn’t even get to my gardening stuff. So I ceded the field of battle. I moved the baker’s rack from our front patio around to the secret garden and put everything there that can safely weather outside. I’ve also pulled most everything out of that space – discovering numerous rodent nests in the process – and now I’ll organize it for him. I kept a lower shelf for my garden stuff that needs to be out of the weather, but otherwise my garden bench is now for his fishing supplies. I’m kind of excited to do the thing where you hang up the tools and draw Sharpie marker outlines to designate where they go. We’ll see if it works and how long that lasts…

Anyway, it’s been good to disengage my brain and simply lift and organize. I’ve been rearranging the patio and garden, too, and things are looking pretty. Plus, I found some cool garden ornaments I shoved back in that corner and forgot I had! Watch for pics of those as I get them put out.

Resurrecting the Dead Elephant

I might have to revamp my writing file organization system.

Yes, gasp if you will. After 15 years of using the same system, I’m now discovering it doesn’t quite fit the writer I am today. I’ve kind of outgrown it, which is both thrilling and daunting.

Okay, you all know I’m a fiend for organization. It’s that little bit of Virgo easing up on my Leo cusp. If you’re just reading so you can make fun of me, well… okay. But if you don’t have a bit of Virgo, you might get bored.

I keep email folders and then organize my files on the computer into folders with the same names. For lo these fifteen years, I’ve been using three major categories for my writing work: In-Progress, Ping-Pong and Published. In-Progress is divided into Incomplete and Draft, and all have further sub-folders for individual works. My Ping-Pong folder is for works under active submission. I read an article in Poets & Writers when I was first starting out that suggested viewing the submission process as a game of ping-pong. You hit the ball out there, they reject it and pop it back, you send it right back out again. When the ball doesn’t return? Score!

This system worked great when I started out because I mainly wrote essays and short stories, submitting them to popular and literary magazines. It was a fairly straightforward process that moved at a lightning pace compared to the geologic time of submitting novels.

This might be spreadsheet TMI, but I keep an Excel workbook, called Progress Count, which has a tab for each manuscript I’m actively working on. I also have a Submission workbook. When I finished drafting and polishing something, I transferred that one spreadsheet to the Submission workbook, where I’d then track the submission process. And I’d move the folder for it, in both email and on the hard drive, from In-Progress to Ping-Pong.

And yes, it made me happy. I’ll even confess to a special thrill when I moved the folders to Published.

Well, now it’s not so clear.

See, for my first novel, Obsidian, it moved nicely from the Incomplete folder to the Draft folder to the Ping-Pong folder. After being kicked around the gutters of NYC, it came limping home, a battered and dented ping-pong ball. It needed rehab, in a big way.

I should have moved it back to the Draft folder. But I didn’t. I never had gone backwards. It stayed in the Ping-Pong folder, but – and this is a big BUT as all your organization fiends will recognize – I had to move the working spreadsheet back to Progress Count, so I could track the revising. You all recognize the problem here, right?

Right. Non-synchronicity of the filing system.

You can pause to steady your breathing – I totally understand.

I revised. The word count changed hugely. I gamely sent Obsidian back into the volley again. I think someone in NYC stepped on the ball because it just stopped coming back. No score.

Sad, I just left it all in the Ping-Pong file, when really I should have moved all the files to some kind of Elephant Graveyard folder. I started a New and Better novel. I put the past behind me.

Well, now someone is interested in Obsidian. (I know – tentative yay!!). I have detailed notes for revision. I hauled the files out of all the various folders I’d left them moldering in, but I feel like I have no place to put them. Resurrection folder, perhaps? Frankenstein’s Lab?

It lives!

I know this is likely all a bit much, but the upshot is that I’m finding there are more gradations to being a published writer than draft, submission, published. And there’s a certain maturity in recognizing that.

I’m off to create a few new folders.

Yeah, no one knows how to have fun like I do!