Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Time Management Tuesday: Time "Lost" To Work That Doesn't Make The Cut

Nowadays, writers who hope to come close to making a living at writing or just to maintain a career find ourselves on an assembly line. Because books go out of print faster than in days of old, we can't rely on even a small income from backlisted books. Neither can publishers. We have to write more and publishers have to publish more to replace the out-of-print books that aren't generating income. Because the market is flooded with new books each year from traditional publishers making up for what they consider to be last year's misses, it's harder to get attention for individual titles. Publishers aren't necessarily doing less book promotion--they're still putting out their catalogs and sending out ARCs and sales people--it's just that's no longer enough. So writers are getting pulled into marketing their own work as well as producing it, extending the amount of time they need to stay on that assembly line.

Writing process, revision, agent searches, submissions, relationships with editors, getting bookmarks printed, planning conference presentations, book trailers--the list of subjects writers think and write and talk about relating to our work goes on and on. And it's all related to keeping our assembly lines moving.

In May's issue of Real Simple, author A. J. Jacobs brings up something in his article, Can You Get More Creative? that writers don't talk about a lot. He interviewed Rex Jung, a professor of neuro-surgery, specializing in the brain and creativity. He told Jacobs "...that we tend to think of creative people as churning out one work of genius after another, but brilliance is a numbers game. Creative people tend to be prolific, and usually the misfires far outnumber the hits." Jacobs concludes, "Embrace the suck, for the suck is part of the process."

Anne Lamott became famous for either coining or popularizing the phrase "shitty first drafts." But that word "first" implies that we'll be able to turn the material into something that is no longer shitty. I think Jacobs and Jung are talking about something more. I think they're talking about work that can't be salvaged at all or needs so much revision that the "shitty first draft" may not even look like a draft of the finished product. The ratio of unusable material to publishable work is often very, very high. This is probably what would qualify as writers' dirty little secret--a lot of what we produce does, indeed, suck.

Unfortunately, suck brings assembly lines to a screeching halt. How do we schedule that into our time management plans?

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