My sister, Emily, is putting on a 5k in Shelbyville this August and over the past week or so, I’ve been training for it.
That’s right. The eden who said she would never run—specifically, the eden who said that even if something awful was chasing her, she would rather be eaten alive than pick up the pace—is going to run (and probably keel over dead during) the Runaway Bride/Runaway Groom 5k.
“What on earth could drive someone as adamant as eden to go against principles she’s held for most of her life?” you might ask. “Charity? Personal betterment? An attempt at a healthier lifestyle? The desire to measure oneself? The need to achieve something?”
None of the above. I just don’t want to do any of the jobs Emily might find for me to do if I’m not running. And I imagine there are a lot of them—timer, register, water-hander-outer, the guy who writes down what everybody’s number is, etc., etc., etc.
“So, you would rather run 1-3.1 miles a day for the next two months than do a small menial job for half an hour? Say, holding a stopwatch or handing out t-shirts?”
Yes. In fact, I have a long history of doing more work to get out of doing less work.
Ask my high school biology teacher. Instead of gathering, pressing, and labeling the native leaves of Missouri over the allotted 3-month period, I found them all the night before they were due, pressed them between cookie sheets and baked them in my mom’s oven. Then I pretended to be sick that next morning so I had time to glue, label, and binder my leaf project, before suddenly feeling better, calling around, finding a way to school to turn it in that afternoon.
Better yet, ask any teacher who required my class to keep a journal and then turn it in at the end of a semester. You think it’d be easy for a writer to write half a page a week about anything he or she wanted. The thing is, though, you can find about ten different pens and pencils around your house and fabricate entries the night before they’re due. (Helpful Tip: To make it especially engaging for your reader, refer to a “previous” entry in a “later” one. Maybe you realized something about yourself as a person or learned to see things from a different point of view.) My favorite trick is to start an entry with a pen that’s almost dead, run out of ink, try scribbling at the top to get that darn pen to work, then get a different pen to finish. It gives your journal an earnest, true-to-life appearance that your reader can relate to.
I once made, printed, and “wore-in” a funeral program for my little brother, falsified airline e-ticket documents, and forged an excuse from my dad just so I didn’t have to do makeup work for skipping one too many (terminally boring) composition classes in college.
I just don’t want to do the up-front work required to make life easier. I can’t even imagine living in a world where I put my nose to the grindstone, make a sincere effort, and rise through the ranks until I hold some respectable position in a reliable 9-5 job.
This is probably a huge reason I’m a writer. Say I write a book over the course of a year (Halo took me eight months, but let’s round up). Then I spend a year revising it, getting feedback, overhauling, and re-revising. Then another year doing the various and sundry things it takes to publish a book. Three years.
If I had a consistent job that paid $7 an hour, with two weeks’ vacation (and not counting all the days I would undoubtedly call in sick because I’m a terrible employee) I’d have made $42,000 in three years’. Also, I’d have 3024 hours of free time (not counting the assumed 8 hours a night for sleep).
The payoff for those same three years as a writer is anywhere from $80 on the low end (this is assuming every one of your family and friends buys your self-published book and not counting the expenses of self-publishing) to $20,000 on the high end (assuming you sign with a major publisher who thinks you’re aces and wants to promote your debut book out the wazoo (Which, by the way, they never want.)). The best-case scenario figures out to a whopping $1.14 an hour. And in case you’re wondering, there’s no such thing as “free time” for writers, only “wasted time.” If you’re not making words into sentences, you might as well be hitting yourself in the head with a hammer.
But I’d still rather write because, in my mind, it seems like a keen way out of doing a real job. (And other reasons that even fewer would laugh at.)
What was my point? I guess that I realize I would rather take the hardest possible way out than do a small amount of work because any way out at all makes me feel like I beat the system.
Bored, guys, I’m bored, I’m so bored.
Not really. In reality, I have gallons of stuff I should be working on. Final revisions for How to Kill Yourself in a Small Town (Halo, to you insiders), drafting cover art, looking into health insurance things—heck, I’ve even got forks to wash and laundry to do. But today I want to talk about books.
“Why would you stop and talk about books when crunch time is finally at hand?” you might ask.
Who are you, my work ethic? Because if you are, you’re too late.
Horns by Joe Hill
If you’re a reader, Horns is probably the most devastating book you’ll ever pick up. If you’ve got a bad heart, weak stomach, or inner ear problem, don’t read it. But Horns should be required reading for writers. It’s an absolute clinic on how to make the hardest possible decisions for your story. There was never a point in this book where Hill said, “Okay, I’ll give [my character] this one,” or, “Easy way out—just this once.” No, every step is harder to take and every page would’ve been excruciating to write. It’s beautiful and awful and so heartbreaking and I don’t even want to think about how much time and energy went into wrestling this story from start to finish. Horns is what writing should be for readers and for writers.
Whispers in the Dark by Maya Banks (KGI Series: Book 4)
KGI is by far my favorite series of books in the military suspense section of the romance shelf, but not because it’s an example of spectacular writing. I’m no elitist when it comes to books. I read some absolute trash and I love every second of it. A compelling character or an awesome story can convince me to forgive a lot, but even I can admit that Bank’s writing could use a few more passes through editing and revision. I want to talk about Whispers in the Dark because it’s an example of an author veering wildly off the beaten path while somehow maintaining believability. You don’t see supernatural storylines in romantic military suspense, and nothing remotely supernatural has happened before within the KGI series, but the way Banks worked Shea’s abilities into Nathan’s story was so smooth and true to her characters that it seemed natural. And as a bonus, the sex scenes were hilarious while still being super-hot, which is something else you don’t find too often in romance.
Death Sentence by Alexander Graham Smith (Escape from Furnace: Book 3)
With Halo’s upcoming release, I’ve been focusing a lot on the effect that books’ covers, back flaps, and beginnings have on potential buyers. Death Sentence is a perfect example of hooking a reader (me, specifically) done right. It’s the only Escape from Furnace book that I’ve read. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve flat-out refused to start in the middle of a series, but the cover was so b.a., the blurb on the back dragged me in, and the first sentence was, “I died in that room.” Hook, line, sinker. I didn’t have a choice, I had to buy it.
Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe by Cullen Bunn (Dalibor Talajic, artist)
Deadpool is crazy, yo. Everybody knows that. It’s part of why he’s my second-favorite corporate comic book superhero of all time. But when you take away the things that also make him funny and give his schizophrenic inner voices some focus, then you’ve got potential for a disturbing, psychological gorefest. That’s what Bunn was going for in Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe, and why I bought it—the concept. The problem was that Bunn didn’t have enough page space to give every murder and mass murder the weight it deserved. (I’ve been accused of this crime a lot lately, so I should know.) Maybe the corporate higher-ups refused to let Bunn have more issues, maybe he was just in a hurry. All I know is that this awesome concept would’ve played out much better if everything had slowed down and the series had drawn out over, maybe, ten or twenty more issues. The Marvel Universe is big and Deadpool is just one guy. One psychotic, homicidal lunatic of a guy.
Four seems like a nice, round number to end on. I’m sure I’ll have more books I want to talk about in the future so I don’t have to work on stuff. I always seem to. But for now, I got to study.
Revision sucks. It sucks on a lot of levels. You know you have to do it to make your story better, but it takes so much doing, such incredibly close attention to detail and thick callouses on your heart. You’ll have to cut things that you loved writing, things you wanted your readers to know so bad, even things that you thought added layers to the story because it isn’t relevant and the trouble it’s causing is outweighing the good it’s doing. You’ll have to read through from beginning to end, searching for any tiny puzzle piece—a word or even an apostrophe—affected by the changes. You might end up deleting a whole hundred pages because things turned out differently than they did in your first, second, or eighth draft. Revision requires a fine-toothed comb and a machete. When you do it right, it’s exhausting, frustrating, and emotional—rewarding, too, but not until you get to the end.
Anyway, inspired by my lack of enthusiasm for the one goal I’ve decided to hold myself to this year (a finalfinalfinal revision of the book I’ve working-titled Halo), I’ve compiled this list of
5 Things I’d Rather Do than Revise Halo Again:
- Write this blog post.
- Random exercises I saw my sister doing the other day. (She’s on Insanity, the workout DVD for people who are serious about maximizing their workout. Dig deep!)
- Wash the dishes. (This is how I know I’m procrastinating.)
- Pay attention to my poor, neglected kids.
- This thing where I hold onto the edge of the island in our kitchen and jump as high as I can using the counter for leverage. (The object of this game is to get my feet above the countertop without falling down.)
- Read anything I didn’t write. (Yesterday I read all of the comics my friend lent me and I just started The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m crazy into it.)
My original 2012 goal for Halo was to get an agent by the end of the year. So far, I’ve managed to procrastinate long enough that achieving that goal is basically impossible (replies from agents can take up to two months), so I need to get this incarnation of Halo done.
I guess I should be an adult about this, buckle down, and get to work. After a couple more of these jumpy-things.