Thursday, March 12, 2015

Going to Church

By Alex Segura

With apologies to my friend Kristi Belcamino - I can’t stand the term “Church of 1,000 Words.” Maybe I'm just a grouch when it comes to phrases. But here's the thing:

It’s spot-on. You have to write. Every. Single. Day.

Let me zoom out a second. I am just now coming out of what I’d like to call a “transitional” period as an author - my first book had come out and I was now fielding questions from friends, family, fellow writers and fans about “When’s the next one coming?” On top of that, though, we (my agent and I) were trying to find a home for not only the next Pete Fernandez book, but the third and the first. A challenge, I think - but my agent nailed it, and now I’m happily part of the Polis Books team.

“Nice plug, bro, but what does that have to do with writing?”

Excellent question, imaginary heckler. It has a lot to do with it, actually. Because as writers, we don’t just sit at home and crank words out 24-7 - we promote, we do events/conferences, we network, we pitch to press, we interact with booksellers, we take meetings and, let’s face it, most of us have day jobs. That does not leave a lot of time for the biggest part of the job, which is problematic.

While in this between-book-limbo, I polished off a draft for the second Pete book, Down the Darkest Street (which was required to get out of the limbo...and now coming in 2016 from Polis Books! Such a relief to say that.), I worked up a few comic book ideas and then...waited. I had about 40k words for Pete Book 3, but with no real sense of what was going to happen, I didn’t want to push further in case things didn’t go as we’d hoped and I’d have to pivot. So, short version - I was working on stuff, but not Working on Something, meaning a specific book. That means it was much easier to do other stuff. Play the guitar. Read a lot more. The urgency and deadline pressure that motivates me wasn’t around.

Still, like any kind of exercise, if you don’t go to the gym/workout for a while, your muscles get lazy and tired and your body just doesn’t want to do that painful thing anymore. Writing is like that. 

But here’s the thing, and I can’t speak for anyone else - when I’m not writing, I become pretty unbearable. It’s like there’s too much stuff in my head and if I don’t sit down and crank it out on the regular, my mood gradually dips. It was that realization more than any external pressures or decisions that got me behind the desk again and working on stuff - anything, really. I wrote a short story. Finished that comic pitch. Edited a sci-fi short I was collaborating on. I just cranked on whatever was in front of me.

And, once the book deal was locked, I sat down and had a goal: to finish a draft of third Pete book. I was already in shape, though - having warmed up on a bunch of smaller projects. So, when I did have to face the gigantic, frightening prospect of another novel, it didn’t feel so scary. That was mainly because I was attending The Church of 1,000 Words. Sure, I was sitting in the back with a hat and shades on, but I was there.

Which brings me to my question to the readers of the blog - what’s your process? Do you have a daily word count? How do you balance non-writerly writer things with the actual work?


Jay Stringer said...

I'm a member of the "church of move the cursor to the right of the page."

I sit and look at my WIP every day. Some days I'll write 5k. Others I'll write maybe 300. A much higher percentage of the work survives to the final draft from the 300 days than the 5k days.

Bruce Springsteen once said the two most important days in his life were the day he picked up the guitar and the day he learned to put it down. Last year I learned to put my writing down when I need to.

So I ride a bike every day (fixed-gear FTW) I listen to music, I read books. The whole time, a part of my brain is working on my book. Then every day I'll sit at my desk, sometimes I write a lot, sometimes not so much.

David Pennington said...

I, too, have been sitting in the back with a hat and shades on. Some days I reach the 1K word count, while other days I'm happy to have reached 100. Having just released my debut novel less than two months ago, I'm still learning to balance non-writerly things with actual writing.

I love this: "Excellent question, imaginary heckler." I have that imaginary heckler in my head quite often.

Alex Segura said...

Yeah, that imaginary heckler - he's a tough one to get rid of.

Jay, I spend a lot of "brain time" on my WIP, even when not in front of a desk. Often before bed or on the train, just working out plot issues or character bits. I find that time really helps when I'm in a jam while writing. The best moments, for me, are when you deviate from the outline/plan and come up with something even cooler.

Unknown said...

Still in the transition period myself but I'm feeling the urge to dig more every day. Because of life, work, and our daughter I have to schedule my time appropriately for sitting down to write. I've gone through the process before and some days it's just not going to happen. I'd rather not risk crashing my car the next morning due to losing an hour or two of sleep.

So I end up writing as many ideas, notes, details, etc. as I can when I can. The story is always running through my head. While I'm not writing a thousand words on a page a day, I'm writing the majority of the days with various degrees of notes/outline/blocking out scenes. I'm front loading the work similar to what is done in television.

I've found that because of doing that, when I sit down to do the actual writing, everything goes down on digital paper much easier. I did it for book one and it worked. So far it's working for book two. I'm more of a write often guy then write every day.