So it turns out that when you have my perpetual problem—late delivery—if you just do your work well and behave like a responsible adult toward your anxious or exasperated business associates, you can often be forgiven quite a bit in the end.
I’m taking that lesson with me into 2013. I continue pursuing my goal of making my deadlines... but I must meanwhile never forget to keep a firm grasp of the professional virtues which my associates appreciate, such as delivering work that is as finished and polished as I can make it, and maintaining businesslike behavior. And in doing so, perhaps I can keep people on board my train while I continue chugging laboriously toward that so-far elusive destination of timely delivery.
New discoveries about process have also formed part of my education during the past year.
As per last January’s column, I sustained an eye injury in 2011 which was so excruciatingly painful that I spent nearly three months gobbling prescription painkillers—during which time I was often very confused and sometimes incoherent. And it took about four months after I stopped using those pills for their mental side-effects to wear off completely.
During that four-month period, there were a number of things I normally do well that I could barely do at all, such as read maps, figure out the tip on a restaurant bill, follow instructions... or write humor. The latter was particularly problematic, since I was already getting a very late start on writing a comedic novel, and the early chapters which I now wrote for it were about as funny as watching paint dry. It took me several more months and at least two new versions before I was able to write something that worked. The published novel contains version 3.5 of the opening chapters.
So now I know that recreational drug use will never find a place on my bucket list. I also know that I could face serious challenges if I ever develop a chronic pain condition, since I’ve yet to find medication which manages my pain without making my mind sluggish and dull.
Anyhow, this unfamiliar problem led me to an anxious experiment that worked much better than I anticipated.
By the time I got version 3.0 of the early chapters working okay (but not quite there yet), I got stuck and simply froze for a while. The diagnosis was easy and unmysterious: I was sick to death of working on the opening of that book and very, very bored with it by now.
With overdue-book pressure heavy on my shoulders (and I didn’t want publication to be delayed, since I have bills to pay), I decided that writing almost anything was better than writing nothing, so I leapt way ahead and wrote the final chapters of the book. Writing out of order was something I had tried a few times in the past, mostly in response to other writers insisting it would help my creativity, and it had always resulted in a useless mess: clumps of scenes that I could never figure out how to start shaping into a book. On this occasion, though—probably because I already had a solid story outline—it worked well for me. So then I leapt backward and tried writing some scenes in the middle of the book, too. That also worked. Eventually, I had about 50,000 words and a fairly good idea of what else I needed to write to make the whole thing string together as a coherent tale. At that point, I went back to the beginning, wrote version 3.5 of the early chapters, and kept going from there.
This unfamiliar process made continuity and plot coherence really nerve-wracking for me, especially given the time constraints I was under by then, and I was still finding little continuity gaffs when proofreading the galleys (luckily, the necessary changes were modest by this point, so I was able to make them). So leaping around isn’t a process I’m keen to use on every project hereafter. But it was a great discovery for me in terms of a new way for me to solve a problem that might otherwise stall me for long enough to slip the production schedule and leave a big blank hole on the bookstands where my novel should be.
Finally, I’ve recently bought my first house. It includes a large, sunny room for my office, one with plenty of storage. I also bought all-new furniture for this office after two decades of furnishing my working spaces with hand-me-downs and dumpster-diving finds (due to budget constraints, not self-denial). The happy result is that—for the very first time in my full-time, self-supporting writing career—I have a spacious, comfortable, attractive, and quiet office to work in.
Settling happily into this excellent new space is making me realize how much of my energy and focus for years has been drained away by working full-time in cramped, ramshackle, sometimes uncomfortable work spaces in very noisy buildings and neighborhoods. It’s made me realize how much environment matters—and what difficult writing environments I’ve worked in for years. So I enter 2013 with high hopes that my