I’m going to talk with names on this, because it was a very personal panel, and there was a lot of “this works for x but not for y.” It featured Jo, Greer, and me, since we are all having very productive years. One of the important points Jo made was that productivity is personal–Greer is having a very productive year for Greer, and while that meant she was a little startled by the word counts Jo and I were discussing, it didn’t make her productivity less real or less important. Jo talked about how we are improving on ourselves, not reproducing others.
I quoted Alec as saying, “Thinking is the most important part of writing,” and it sounded like we had been substantially thinking in advance on these books, so that they were more ready when we got to them. Someone–I didn’t note who–described chunks of book falling on them with flaming swords through a blizzard. For me it’s more that everything I’m writing is much closer. It’s like I would usually have to stretch a little to reach it on the shelf, and now it’s all just sitting on the desk within reach.
One of the notable points of commonality is that these bouts of productivity did not, contra suffering artist cliches, come from times of great suffering. Greer was coming out of the first flush of a great grief, and Jo and I had less physical interference than we sometimes do with writing. (I should note that the plane ride home was through a thunderstorm and has kicked up my vertigo–and that this has not turned the spigot off. Which is in some ways a relief and in some ways pretty alarming.)
Greer apparently had her book fall on her head while eating strawberries with creme fraiche and brown sugar. And to this I say: this is excellent advice for young writers. Those who have strawberry or dairy allergies can modify it slightly. But think of all the things we tell young writers as advice! Some of these things are potentially harmful! Eating strawberries, on the other hand, might not help them with their stories but is highly unlikely to do any harm. The next time someone tells you to outline or freewriter or talk it out with a friend or keep it bottled up inside or whatever else they tell you as writing advice, feel free to substitute, “Or strawberries. I could eat strawberries and think of my story. It might work, and if it didn’t work, at least there would be strawberries.”
I bet this works for other art forms, too, at least as well as it works for writing.
Anyway. I talked about the three rules I was following (discussed in this post, and Jenett and I had a good laugh about how well they map to the 4H pledge), but that’s by no means universal. A lot of people don’t try to keep up with doing everything else while they’re having an unusually productive period, or else can’t even if they do try, and that’s okay; the unusually productive periods do not last forever. One of the audience members once wrote a contract novel in 56 hours, playing Richard Thompson on repeat the whole time. This audience member still appears to be on speaking terms with their family.
Honestly, folks, I expected this panel to be a retrospective. Gosh, I had a productive month! 2/3 of a novel and 8 short stories! Wasn’t that productive! But so far it’s still going. I have one or possibly two short stories to finish up this week, and then it’s straight into the next book, for which I have [counting] five pages of notes on paper sitting on my desk. It’s doing that thing where if I don’t actively think of something else, the book says, “Helllooooo, book here, you wanted this plot point, didn’t you? I could tell you did. Also here is some worldbuilding! You’re welcome!” I think it was during the process panel (more on which anon) that Jo talked about if she didn’t want to do the laundry, getting a character in her head who thought the washing machine was awesome modern technology, so much better than having to drag it down to the river and pound on it and etc. And I do that too. Except, for example, if an opening act at a concert is no good and it would be rude to snark out loud about it, if a novel is going well, there’s usually at least one character in the novel who would snark about it too. And then the snark starts telling me worldbuilding things about the character’s assumptions about education or art or whatever else. And then there it all is. Which is a lot more diverting than a bad opening act, don’t get me wrong! It’s just that it’s there all the time.
And this is part of why I’m writing another novel: because the fire hose is still turned on, and sticking short story shot glasses under it to catch the water is only partly useful. And then there’s this novel! So who knows how long the fire hose will keep going, but…there’s this novel! So here we are. Still. Okay then.