The Importance of Silence and Downtime

I’m not silly enough to assume this is true of all writers, but it’s certainly true of me: I need silence.

Not true silence, the absence of noise, though that is also beneficial.  What I really need is a sort of mental silence–time in which I don’t have to be thinking too hard about other things, like work, or whether my child is screaming for good or bad reasons, or if I remembered to feed her.

The reason I need that time is so my brain can work through story issues.  I can sit, in a hammock, let’s say, staring at the trees above me, blinking but doing nothing else–and in my brain, ideas are being sifted through, sometimes consciously, but sometimes in the “background” of my mind while I’m just processing sensory input consciously.  It’s a weird and hard to describe process.  So here’s an example:

Saturday night, my daughter and I stayed in a motel in Placerville, about a half-hour drive from my home, because we were going out to watch the Perseid meteor shower and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way home from our star-watching spot at the Ice House Observation Plateau to Sacramento at oh-dark-thirty in the morning.  When we woke up Sunday, we got dressed, packed up, and went home, where an hour later, I realized I’d left my pillow–a non-standard, kinda expensive pillow that is literally the best pillow I’ve ever had–in the motel room.

Figuring the gas to get there and back again was less than the cost of buying a new pillow, I went back for it.  I went alone, which was useful.  As I drove, I started asking myself some tough questions I’ve been having a hard time with about The Remembrance War around some of the events in book 2 and some stuff I’m building toward in book 3.

Namely, I had two major questions:  First, instead of getting into a protracted street fight in book 2, why don’t the Zhen simply blast the rebels into the dirt from orbit?   Second, why don’t they shoot Tajen dead when he begins [REDACTED]*?  And, bonus question, why ARE [REDACTED] getting involved with the whole mess in book 3?

As I drove, with nothing to do but let the music on my crappy car radio be white noise while I thought (and steered), I found all three answers.  So I committed them to memory, and then spent some time refining the concepts and pre-composing a few scenes that will help make it all clear–scenes that will fit into the already-planned story arc and scene structure.

That kind of downtime, you see, is precious.  And I don’t get a lot of it in my daily life.  Between work, ten year old child, and spouse, there’s a lot of talking, and a lot of doing, in my day.  And I need the quiet to be able to figure out what’s going on with the story.

Fortunately, once I know what’s supposed to happen in a given scene, writing does not require silence.  I wrote one of the best scenes in The Widening Gyre while sitting in a room with 300 chattering parents and their kids at my daughter’s school, waiting for an event to begin.  I wrote several other scenes in the middle of restaurants or coffee shops full of noise.

So while it isn’t necessary to actually write down words, it is super necessary to figure out what the general shape of those words should be.

And now, it’s time to get back to the writing.  Tajen’s about to make an idiot of himself before the Kelvaki High Council at the worst possible moment.

What It’s Really Like, Part 2: The Contract

A few days after I sent my acceptance of the terms the publisher was offering, they sent me the boilerplate for their contract.

boilerplate is standardized language used in contracts.  Every publisher has their own.  It’s essentially the same thing you’ll see in the contract.  This is where the negotiation happens.

So I read over the boilerplate, and googled like crazy for a couple of days.  The contract lays out what you’re paid, when it happens, and how royalties are calculated. It isn’t the same for all formats–there’s separate rates for hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook, and then rates for remaindered books, and book club editions.

It also lays out how much the author gets for the sale of translation rights, film/tv rights, audio play (as in radio) rights, etc.  Most of those, I imagine, will never be used, but they’re enumerated in the contract.

The contract lays out what happens if I don’t live up to my obligations by delivering the book by the due date (I’ve already turned it in, since it was complete when I submitted it for consideration), and how any disputes between the publisher and I will be dealt with.  I don’t foresee any of that being an issue; it’s all pretty straight-forward.

It all looked great, so I signed it.  I’m sure in the old days this was done primarily via mail, but because the 21st century is amazing, I signed it just like I signed a lot of my mortgage papers–online, via DocuSign.  Thanks to the iPad’s abilities, my finger-signature even looks like my actual signature.  Within half an hour of signing, I got a copy in my email, signed by me, my editor in New York City, and the head of the publisher in London, UK.  I love the future.

Of course, what I know now is that I should have at least tried to hold on to the tv/film rights.  When I signed it I didn’t really care, because in the unlikely event of a film rights deal, I’d get the majority of the money.  But after signing, I learned from a few sources, most eloquently Jen Udden and Bridget Smith, in their podcast Shipping & Handling, Episode 47, that I should have asked for those rights to remain with me, partly for monetary reasons, but also for reasons of control.  Udden and Smith also recommend keeping the rights to graphic novels, and merchandising. They also suggest that if you must give up those rights, try for more than 50% (which I got without haggling, because my publishers are good people). Again, this will likely never come up.  Film deals are exceedingly rare.

I’m not sure how my publisher would have handled that–my understanding is that most of the big houses just grumble and give up the grab at those rights–but, in my case I don’t think I was harmed in giving up those rights even if there is interest further down the road. But it’s a data point new writers should have.

In any case, I don’t actually regret giving those rights up, mostly because the odds of it ever becoming an issue are pretty much against me. But it’s something I’ll keep in mind going forward.

And finally we come to where I am in the process: Waiting. I expect the first-round edits and copyedits in the next 2-3 months.  Publication is tentatively scheduled for March 2019.  I’m working on book 2, which has not yet been signed, and will send off the proposal for it when I’ve got a couple of chapters done (it’s already been plotted and a synopsis has been written).

I’m also doing a lot of research on conventions and other avenues of writerly book promotion.  All while trying to give my kid a fun summer and also plan for the next school year.

How Chuck Wendig’s Advice Saved My Book

So, there was this scene.

It had some good stuff in it–a line of dialogue I liked, a conversation that needs to happen at some point–but the scene, as a whole?  It was awful.  The kind of awful one writes when you’re just too tired to be at the keyboard, and you sink into silly wish-fulfillment.  It read, honestly, like RPG-based fanfic.  Bleah.

Yesterday I opened twitter up and read some of the people I like.   One of them is Chuck Wendig, who, if you don’t know, is a writer, and also writes a lot of profanity-laden, kick-you-in-your-teeth writing advice on his blog.  Yesterday on twitter were a series of posts (link goes to a storify version of them) about daring to change direction.  And, reading them, my brain flash-fired on a new scene and chapter that would make the story better, AND get my protagonist to a place, and a confrontation, I need him to be in that works better than what I had planned.

So this morning I copy and pasted the parts I liked into a folder I keep in my Scrivener project called “Snips.”  The Snips folder is for those bits of prose that work in a scene that otherwise doesn’t, or bits of text I wrote out of sequence and haven’t found a place for yet. Some of the snips will find their way back into the book, some won’t.  Maybe some will find their way into a future book.  We’ll see.  Anyway, I did the copy/paste, and then I took a snapshot (it’s a Scrivener thing) of the project, took a deep breath, and deleted 1,650 words.  Then I whimpered, went to the break point, and started writing.

And damned if it isn’t flowing better than it has in weeks.

Thanks, Chuck.