The thing about coming back tired from vacation into the making of holiday cheer is that there are all sorts of things that are almost but not quite slipping my mind. Entirely possible that there are all sorts of things that are completely slipping my mind, too, but I can’t remember what they are just now. I was so tired this morning that I had to stick my head back under the shower once I’d gotten out, because I couldn’t remember whether I had rinsed my hair or not, and it seemed like probably I should make sure.
Of course, I was trying to remember something like five different plot points on two stories that had come up while I was in the shower, so you can see where something like “did you perform the basic functions for which you were there” might have fallen off the bottom of the list.
Which reminds me–and thank heavens something does, because see above–that I’ve been talking on Twitter to Matthew Bennardo about working on multiple projects at once. He was feeling alone because most of the people he was asking claimed to work on only one story at once. And no, that is not me, really not, really no. I have dozens of stories in different stages of completion. I would worry about this if I didn’t write so dang many stories of different types and lengths anyway, but clearly I’m finishing stuff. Clearly I’m selling stuff. So what we call this is process, not problem.
Before I left for Montreal, Kameron Hurley had a blog post (somewhere…oh, look, here it is) called “Why I Finish All My Shit.” And I read it, and I thought, “huh, no, glad it works for you, but no.” Because yes, you have to finish stuff to learn how to finish stuff–both in the sense of completion and in the sense of making endings work. Absolutely. But there is a very strong sunk cost element here. If I get 200 or 2000 or 20000 words into a story and realize that it is just not working, forcing myself to finish its non-working self rather than writing some better story is what we call a colossal waste of time. And unless something is under contract, if one story is working and another is stalled out, for me there’s no particular reason to sit and stare at the stalled out story when I can be productive on the story that’s working.
(I’ve talked in the past about working out of sequence on longer projects–longer short stories as well as novels–and this is part of why. It works on a chapter-by-chapter basis for me, too. Why should I stare at Chapter 3 going, “Guhhhhh worrrrrrds,” when I could be humming merrily away writing Chapter 16? Yes, Chapter 3 will eventually get written, and for some people it really does have to happen chronologically. I am not one of those people.)
Look, here’s the thing. I have a chronic illness. I have chronic vertigo, and it stinks, and the meds that (sort of) work for it also stink. But one of the things it does is make me aware of limited opportunities. Of giving myself the best chance to succeed, to get things done, to even enjoy myself along the way. For some writers, sitting down and writing one story, start to finish, chronologically, and only writing another one when the first is revised and sent out, is the way to do that. That’s great for them. But it’s not my process, and it may not be your process, and that’s okay too.
If there’s one writing rule I would like to see enshrined for beginning writers everywhere, always, it’s this:
It’s okay if you don’t do it like anyone else, as long as you do it well.