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23 April 2007 @ 06:59 pm
Turning books in late: how does that happen?  
So I was talking about the fact that I'm going to be turning the third book in this trilogy in late, and lease wanted to know how that happens. As she said, "What I fail to understand is how someone can say a book will be done on X date and then it doesn't happen. Like, just doesn't. How is that okay?" What, she wanted to know, are people *doing* with their time, if they're saying something will be in on a specific date and miss it? How does that work? After a minute of discussion, she added, "I'm realizing now that this sounds utterly obnoxious, but I'm just saying that like, how does it happen? Genuine curiosity. :)"

And it's a harder question to answer than I thought it would be, especially if I was trying to avoid sounding pretentious. :) No one's *happy* if you turn a book in late, but, as I said to her, it's something like "you can't put art in a box". Writing isn't a one size fits all occupation, and the weirdest things (or not so weird) can derail you. I didn't write anything for a month when the dog got sick and died. (Which is not why my book is going to be late. That's a whole different scenario, but still.)

So it happens because the dog dies or feedback is late in coming in or you hit a wall with the story or the project that's been lying fallow for eight months suddenly goes into overdrive or the day job is overwhelming and you simply don't have the energy, or, and this is a big one, I think:

If you have a 9-5 job, you very rarely, if ever, hear somebody say "I don't have time to go to work today." If you are an artist of any sort, and reliant on your own discipline, and working at home, there are always things to do. Shop, clean, cook, go for a walk, whatever. Half a dozen small things can become "I don't have time to work today" very easily, and that just doesn't happen if you have a day job. You might, once in a great while, take a day off work to get things done that are desperately important but cannot be done on the weekend, but people do not take the day off to catch up on laundry, generally speaking.

It happens if you're just plain a slow writer and expect to finish something sooner than you do. It happens--this didn't actually happen to me, but it came close: with QUEEN'S BASTARD, I had a synopsis that turned out to be about a book and a half's worth of material, and I thought it was one book's worth. I got lucky and didn't slam into a wall over that, and I know that doesn't *sound* like a problem (just cut it in half!) but it's actually a fairly massive thing to deal with, creatively. It can mean changing the whole way you think about the book, which can be very, very difficult to do (said the woman who is currently in the process of doing a massive revision which requires thinking about the book in a whole new way).

I've read a story of one writer who was way overdue on a book and went apologizing to her editor, who said, "It's okay. Babies won't die. Be calm," and that's part of it too: turning a book in late is not an end of the world scenario. Another author I know just turned in a manuscript that was more than three years overdue, and that person is a consummate professional. That book, though, had just plain been impossible to get through. JK Rowling took forever getting the, what, fifth? book out, in part because somebody was suing her over something, and that sort of life event can just wipe out the energy you have to do the job with.

So it does happen. Most times, you're probably only going to be a few weeks late, and publishers usually work that kind of lag time into their schedules, because writing /is/ a creative endeavour, and try as you might, it's not easy to quantify it. When the lag times get greater than that, well...when you get right down to it, the book's just going to be late. That's how it is, and the truth is, babies won't die.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful
Jim C. Hines: Goblin Herojimhines on April 23rd, 2007 06:04 pm (UTC)
...or several people in your immediate family have unexpected surgeries, and you're busy taking care of them and miss your writing quota for several weeks.

...or you, your editor, and your agent all want to get the next book out as soon as possible, and you simply miscalculate how much time you'll need to meet those goals.
R. Scott Shanks, Jr.mnarra on April 23rd, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
I don't entirely know why, but I feel enormously comforted by this. Thank you.
Trent the Uncatchableknappenp on April 23rd, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC)
Hey, I don't have time to work today. I've got books to read.
Merlin Of Chaosmerlinofchaos on April 23rd, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
I would like to add -- and this is true of many things that are built creatively. From personal experience it applies to writing as well a programming -- and that's that "Books are not houses".

Houses and food are two things that when you set out to build them, you have a pretty good idea how long it's going to take. In both cases, you're starting with a plan or a recipe. Or perhaps you're even coming up with that plan / recipe. Either way, the timeline can be established pretty early in the project. The sorts of things that change the timelines on food and houses are inclement conditions (It rained all of April so we couldn't work / the oven ran 25 degrees too hot and ruined step B so I had to do it again), and sometimes just failure (I installed the window frame backward, oops / I used sugar when I was supposed to use powdered sugar). The point being...it's usually very easy to see where something went wrong.

Books and programming are, to me at least, more of a visionary thing. You don't necessarily know everything about what you're going to create when you start out, and it's very, very easy to get part way through and have something completely derail your plans and force you to go a completely different direction for awhile.

I don't think it's just the working-from-home aspect that throws writing deadlines off; it's partly the fact that just writing a thousand words a day or some amount of code per day isn't going to just get a book done on time. If you write blindly and you get halfway through and discover that you've borked something and it's going to cause you to throw away 25% of what you've written, that's time you're going to have to spend fixing it. And sometimes the words, they just don't come that fast. Sometimes you can barrel ahead at light speed, and sometimes, you've got to step back and gain some energy.

A carpenter can still work on a house when he's having a bad day. He might have to slow down a bit and force himself to focus, but at the end of the day, if he focused, he probably did just as good a job as usual, because a good carpenter knows precisely what he's doing and it's the exact same thing he's been doing for years.

Writers and programmers...if they write when they're not really *in* it, sometimes it just goes the other way.

At least, that's my experience.
nuj on April 24th, 2007 03:57 am (UTC)
More on the JK Rowling thing...

The thing about writing that no one who doesn't do it can understand is that it can be exhausting. Using your brain and that undefinable thing that makes us writers, gives us our talent, drains us in a way that nothing else does.

JK Rowling had struggled and pushed and driven herself to get book 4 done, and when it was, she was burned out. She tried to buy back the contract because she just couldn't face book 5. Of course, even by then HP was starting to become a phenomenon so I doubt there was any question what the publisher would do, but they eliminated her deadline and she took a much-needed break.

After last year, I wouldn't be surprised if you felt the same way. :)