Okay, fine, call me a workaholic if you really want to, but me, I just call it keeping ahead of the curve.
The other night, after several days away from the keyboard, I finished the first pass at an outline — maybe treatment would be a better word? — for the next book I'll be writing. No title yet; the provisional title I'd come up with before, held over from a previous incarnation of some of the same ideas in this project, doesn't fit anymore. 2019 Novel Title TBD, whatever.
My plan this time around, though, is to follow a few rules involving the scope and length of the project:
A shorter book is an easier book to manage in many respects — less to edit, less to juggle conceptually, less to drown in. We all like to say "less is more" (and maybe better to say, as Milton Glaser did, that just enough is more), but we don't always know how less can be more. The mere fact that it's just less work, period, is often criterion enough.
Many writers have at some point in their career the ambition to encapsulate the world into a story, however long it takes — the Great American Novel, or what have you. They're less interested in what goes into the story itself than the act of making the story into something all-encompassing. Eventually, if they're lucky, they realize this is foolish; the length of a story has little to do with its depth, and the depth of the story is not always something that can be programmatically determined by the author anyway. Some of the worst books are those that just about melt under the author's determination to make them profound at all costs. As Tibor Fischer put it, profundity is a lot like humor; you either have it or you don't, and straining doesn't help.
The third bullet point, about outlining and planning, is something I've made a major pivot to since I started the first of the Genji Press books.
For those who don't follow my history in detail, I had several other novels written and self-published before I started this little concern, but most of them were garbage and only two of them are really worth preserving. (And even then I haven't really gone out of my way to bring them back into print, which should tell you something about how much I think of them. I don't even have the original manuscripts of those books anymore; I had to download backup .PDFs from the print-on-demand service where they were originally published. Maybe someday I'll bother trying to whip them into shape, but really, you're not missing much. They're just amateurish and jumbled. Anyway, digression over.)
Up until Vajra or so, I did very little planning on any book — I tended to just sit down, start writing, see where I ended up, and clean things up after the fact. Eventually I outgrew this strategy. Not because I have a thing against being spontaneous, but because I found better ways to cultivate spontaneity, and because even the more modestly sized books I produced benefited from the upfront focus provided by a detailed outline. Thinking about outlines as a general roadmap, a Peter Jenkins walking tour guide rather than an instruction manual.
Once I employed this approach a couple of times, it struck me how so many of the reasons I'd avoided doing so for so long were spurious and unscrutinized. For one, I'd had the stupid idea that any story I couldn't hold in my head at once was not worth writing, because it meant I couldn't rise to the challenge. I disabused myself of that idea after learning how Dostoevsky planned his works in his notebooks, and how even he didn't have the whole thing in his head at once. (I use a wiki. To each their own.)
The biggest win this time around, though, is being more aggressive about using the outlining process as a way to bring to the surface all the themes that might normally take me a draft or two to really dredge up. In the past, it took some spelunking around in the actual draft process to make those themes concrete. This time around, though, I think I've unearthed them all the more quickly. That ought to mean a less seismic rewrite process, and a better sense of how to get where I want to be.
And with any luck this time it won't take nearly two years.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind