Saturday, November 21, 2009

Workin' in a Coal Mine

Back in full-court-press work mode the last few days. The project of which I spoke a few weeks back is going back and forth. My first draft went in, was read, annotated, and I'm fiddling with it.

Mostly, writing isn't that hard a job. It's not like real work. If you are doing spec stuff, you can pace yourself. Do ten pages on Monday, five on Tuesday, take off Wednesday to run errands and babysit, eight pages on Thursday.

If you agree upon a deadline that gives you six, nine months, a year, then you have plenty of time to get the work done. And even then, there is usually a bit of wiggle room.

Tight deadlines without wiggle room require something else. If it absolutely-positively has to be there on Saturday and you don't get it there? They don't come back to see you next time. The old joke is, "Do you want it good, or do you want it Tuesday?" For which the comeback is, "I want it good -- and I want it Tuesday ..."

I've turned work like this down several times because I knew I would have to put more effort into it than it was worth. The time-heuristic is, when taking on a project, to figure out how long you will need, then double that and add thirty percent for the shit -- because work always expands to fill time allotted.

If somebody comes to me and says, "We need a finished book on our desk in three months," I might can do that, assuming there's nothing else on my plate. But if the three months includes me having to write an outline, submit it, then wait for them to read it and approve it before I can start -- then do rewrites based on their notes? I can't.

Why? Because anywhere from two to four weeks comes off the top for that pre-writing-the-book process, and they don't count that. And any notes they offer on the draft for rewrites comes out of that ticking clock, too.

So maybe two months becomes my de facto deadline. I know people who can crank out a hundred thousand words in six weeks. Once upon a time, I could, but unless the money is going to be phenomenal, I'm not going to burn up my hands this way any more. Life is too short.

On a fast turnaround, you have to focus, get productive, and deliver the project, and that sometimes requires long hours of AIC (ass-in-chair). Anybody who does any kind of project work knows how this goes, it's not just writing.

Sitting down at eight-thirty a.m. and not getting up until six p.m. save to pee, or stretch, a sandwich at your desk, that's not uncommon. That is where the discipline part people who aren't writers wonder about comes in. Nobody stands behind your chair making sure the work gets done, either you crank or you don't.

Not enough that they believe you can do it. You have to know you can.

When I'm done with all this, I'll come back and detail the thing -- what it is, and how I addressed it. Meanwhile, it's back into the mine. (Can I get a chorus of "Sixteen Tons" here?)


Dojo Rat said...

Thanks for all your practical knowledge on writing, it is an inspiration to people like me who hope to get "there" some day.
John @ D.R.

Bobbe Edmonds said...

Oh yeah, me too.

You already know this, but...I'd be screwed nine ways to Sunday if it wasn't for the constant prodding and guidance you give me. I sure as FUCK wouldn't be as good a writer as I like to think I am.

I might write a book one day called "All the shit Steve Perry taught me, between two covers for one low price"

Brad said...

Was writing "The Army of The Dead" like that? Just finished reading it and was wondering how much of the story was your's and how much were you directed to write/include. Was some if Indy's background your idea? Or was it hinted to you, given to you?

Just how much of a freehand are you given in something like this?

(By the way, not in the same class as your Matador stuff, but I enjoyed it enough to encourage other folks to buy it)

Steve Perry said...

Each foray into a joint universe is different. With Indy, they approached me with the idea of Jones and zombies -- and they liked the "zombi" spelling. There was a time span they wanted to use, during the war, and they wanted to use Mac.

The setting was mine, the characters, and the plot. The b.g. stuff on voodoo, I researched, with a little help from Bobbe. The stuff on the airplane and the war and what they were doing in Haiti at the time was as accurate as I could make it.

I wanted to show Mac as Indy's friend, so that Crystal Skull's revelation of betrayal meant something.

I also wanted Indy to be feeling his age a bit and wondering why a grown man kept doing what he was doing.

Some of what I wanted they wouldn't let me do -- no sex. I was limited to PG-level violence, and there was some historical stuff I had to cut.

Some fans loved it, some hated it -- they wanted to see the Indy of Raiders, full-out, non-stop action, with Indy shrugging it all off, kicking ass and taking names, and traveling the world. I liked that movie too, but I didn't want to write it. Older I get, the more that character interests me, and exploding heads, not so much ...