LevGrossman

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Small-Batch Writing

I’ve entered a phase of novel-writing which partly resembles novel-writing and partly resembles something else—something furtive, like low-level espionage, or a secret drug addiction.

For the past two months or so I was writing full time, flat-out, or as flat-out as you can get in this age of modern distractions like Twitter and Kingdom Rush and babies-who-for-some-reason-don’t-feed-themselves. Now I’m back at work.

But when you’ve got enough momentum going with a novel, and you’ve got a bunch of deadlines for that novel that you’ve agreed to, in writing, you can’t just stop. So you don’t stop.

Instead you go dark.

For example: in the mornings I work from home for an hour or two before I go into the office. Not because there’s any particular reason for me to do that, except that by the time I hit the subway rush hour is over, which means I can probably get a seat, and if I get a seat I can crack open my MacBook Air and steal 20-25 minutes of writing time.

I’m always on the lookout for little gaps like that in my schedule: anytime I can get a block of 10 minutes or more, I take it. I write in waiting rooms. I write in cars while other people are driving (this is very boring for them, but I do it anyway). I write while pasta is boiling.

Sometimes when I’m taking care of my kids they fall asleep, or lose consciousness for other reasons. The second they do I’m at my keyboard. Ninja writer strikes! Then I go back to changing diapers.

It’s not ideal. It’s tough to keep your concentration, with your time chopped up like that. But on the plus side you tend to come at your writing from new angles, freshly, the way you would somebody else’s book. And there’s plenty of time for your subconscious to process things and toss out ideas while you’re distracted by other things. I get my best ideas 10 minutes after I’ve stopped writing and gone on to something else.

And since you’re writing in the spaces in between work, your brain automatically categorizes writing time as play. Which is as it should be.

But it means leading a bit of a double life. I don’t always feel great about it. I don’t know who said, ‘books are written with time stolen from other people’ (Paolo Bacigalupi? Anyway I heard it from him), but it’s true. I’m engaging in petty time-thievery, all day, every day.

If nothing else, it motivates you. What you’re writing had damn well better be worth it.

p.s. People sometimes ask me, don’t you make enough money off your books at this point that you can quit your day job? Answer: Yes, theoretically. But [personal stuff].


14 comments on “Small-Batch Writing

  1. Jaimie says:

    Oh God Kingdom Rush. This reminds me I need to check if the sequel is out yet.

    “I get my best ideas 10 minutes after I’ve stopped writing and gone on to something else.” That happens to me too.

  2. Linda W says:

    ‘books are written with time stolen from other people–so very true. Books and theses. I felt sheepish having to say, “You know, I really can’t hang out,” for the two years my MFA required. And now with writing deadlines, I feel just as sheepish saying, “You know, I can’t hang out” once again.

  3. M says:

    incredible self control there

  4. Nagol99 says:

    YAY…keep ninja writing!!! I can’t wait to read the next Magician’s book! Love the story universe & can’t wait to see what come’s next!

    By the way what IS cooming next after Magician’s Land? Any more projects in the works?

  5. Andreas says:

    You get at it! Steal that time!
    It’s an investment. People just don’t know it will pay off.

  6. Leah says:

    Just as Jane Austen famously did. Glad to hear it works (watch out for sticky pasta though).

    Never posted a comment here before. But these Magician books are so damn good, they speak to me as a GenX nerd just like Liz Lemon spoke to me as a GenX nerd girl–both felt specifically tailored to me and my pecularities.

  7. Leah says:

    P.S. How very Brooklyn that you are engaged in small batch, locally made writing. (I just appalled myself by purchasing a teeny pot of locally made honey for $10(!!!!) … but I was hoping it might help my son’s allergies. Yes, I too live in Brooklyn.)

  8. Catharina says:

    When is it going to be released? I’m dying to read it. Just finished Magician King and I miss it so much i can’t read anything else.

  9. Heather Head says:

    But [personal stuff] is my reason for small batch writing too. Well, that and lack of discipline for longer stretches. Because, really, I could be long-batch writing right now instead of pretending to myself that I’m working while I’m actually trolling my favorite blogs that I haven’t read in weeks.

    And in case the word of a proven, much-loved, best selling author isn’t enough, I can attest (as someone who has written 30+k words in the shitty first draft of my first novel) (my 12-year-old has read several paragraphs of it and says it’s awesome, so you KNOW it’s that good), that small batch writing does work.

    I’ve been getting up an hour before dawn to write, every morning for a month, because Anne Lamott told me I had to. Actually, what she said is that working 40+ hours a week for clients and homeschooling three kids is a bullshit excuse for not writing at least an hour a day. Actually she didn’t say that to me at all because only in my dreams are Anne Lamott and I best girl friends who call each other on things like that. But she did say it in more general terms to her most intimate circle of 115,000 Facebook followers, so it’s practically the same thing.

    Back to the but [personal stuff]. Funny how it never really seems to go away. Funny how everyone assumes that if you’re successful in one realm (like publishing, for instance), that it automatically makes the rest of life easier. Funny how we think that, despite all evidence to the contrary. Maybe it’s because we all hope it will be true for US, at least, when we get there (wherever “there” is for us).

    Can’t wait to see what the ninja writer produces next. Now I’m off to… make lunch for the kids… nope, they can do that themselves, think I’ll add some new words to my novel… nope, gotta prep for client training session tomorrow… oh, look! Notification on Facebook! And three new emails! I wonder what’s in my WordPress reader today?

  10. Wendy Kloiber says:

    Said with great admiration: you work like a woman.

  11. [...] just in awe of authors like Lev Grossman, who just had a baby and nevertheless is plugging on with his book in small batches (check his blog, please, but don’t get too uppity and start posting comments, because then [...]

  12. Jaimie says:

    Kingdom Rush 2, Lev. Kingdom Rush 2. Also (begin contradiction) I need a new book to read. I can’t just reread Jonathan Strange forever. Come on!

  13. [...] authors can squeeze in their writing, “stealing time” as Lev Grossman describes in this post. I can do that with music production, which I’ve been at for over twenty years now, but [...]

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