Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Juggling Act

A week or two ago, back in the throes of finishing up the current WIP and juggling the newly arrived copy edits for Theo Four, Mel asked for details on how I juggled these tasks, so I thought I’d talk about that a little bit.

There really isn’t a secret to it, and I suspect I used to be better at it when I was younger, but it’s pretty much just a matter of compartmentalizing your day and your brain. Luckily, both the left side and the right side of my brain are pretty active. (Random Fact Alert: I was tested on that once for a job. The guy thought I had cheated because I was split so evenly down the middle in terms of brain usage.)

Since early morning when I just get up is my prime writing time, that’s when I do any actual page producing type of writing. So working on the WIP was my priority then, I would sit down and write anywhere from six to ten pages or do a major revision of a scene or two, depending on how much revising they required.

After that, I take my morning walk, have breakfast (obviously a late breakfast!), take a shower, then work on business type things—email, blogs, website stuff—or research for the current project. However, if I have something I absolutely need to work on, like copy edits for a completely different book (and world) that requires I access a completely different mental landscape (and voice) what I do is take a nap.

I know that sounds a bit indulgent, and I guess it is, but it also resets my mental clock, like a brain’s version of the reset button, so that when I get up, I don’t have all the darky moody flotsam and jetsam of medieval France still filling up my brain while I try to work on a funny, Edwardian era caper. However, the key thing here—and the most difficult—is to not let the flotsam and jetsam of the morning’s project get buried too deep or shunted too far off to the side so that you lose that close connection with the work. To help with that, I also try to get my subconscious a story bone to chew on for the afternoon.

I am very lucky in that I rarely have to turn copy edits around in two days like I hear so much about. That would seriously suck for me, because I can only focus on a smallish chunk of copy edits at a time without wanting to pull my hair out.

My usual process is when I first get the package is to glance through them and see just how severe a copy edit it is. (And to my immense pride and satisfaction, they are getting less and less severe. Clearly I am learning to produce cleaner final drafts. Hooray!) Then I set my timeline, trying to give myself enough time at the end that I can send them back UPS 3rd day air and not spend a fortune on shipping. (Paper is heavy!) Then once I know I have five days to work on them, I divvy them up into five chunks and work on one chunk a day. For the Theo books, those chunks are 50 to 60 pages at a time. The Fludd books are much smaller, and I usually do them in only three days or so.

Now here’s the thing about copy edits: I am eternally and hugely grateful for every copy editor that has gone over my work with a finely sharpened colored pencil. BUT, they are not fun because someone is basically catching all your mistakes. I get pissed off when I make mistakes. Obviously I get pissed off at myself, but it is easier to grumble at the poor copy editor because she is not there and I am. Please note: This is a personal failing on my part and is by no means a reflection of how I actually feel about copy editors. I love them!

So I go through and accept or stet all the corrections. However, anything that I am not sure of or any places where I find myself reacting defensively, I simply flag to go back and look at again. That way I am able to move ahead at a good pace and don’t get bogged down. The cool thing about that is that usually when I go back to the flagged places, my defensiveness has cooled off, or I spend a few minutes consulting with grammar guides or reviewing my research materials before making/accepting the change.

Then, feeling virtuous, I put that day’s chunk aside and go do a bit of research or planning for the next morning’s draft pages. I will often try to do some light research reading just before I go to bed, again, trying to fill up my subconscious with raw material it might need for the next day’s work.

And that is probably more than you ever wanted to know about juggling projects, but there you go.


Mae said...

My writing basically is working on the book I feel most like writing in whatever free time I have- after all, I am eleven, and still have school!

Mel said...

Wow. That's awesome. This is always my number one question to authors. I love to hear about their day. I am always curious how they juggle the work so that it doesn't drive them crazy while managing to make time for their life. Especially in your case! Recently, you were juggling a lot of projects all at once.
To me, writing in the tranquility of the morning sounds romantic - this is my escapist self idealizing that morning writing is better than any other time of the day. Obviously, I haven't been able to do that yet, nor may I ever manage it. I'm a certified night owl.
Thanks for sharing Robin.

Robin L said...

Mae, that is an EXCELLENT strategy, and the one I recommend most of all. Especially if you are still in school!

Mel, I think there is quite a lot of romance to writing late at night, when the rest of the world is fast asleep dreaming their dreams while you put yours down on paper. Trust me, if you were to see me in the morning with uncombed hair, my bathrobe, and peering bleary-eyed at my manuscript, the romance would quickly disappear! However, as a certified morning person, I don't have any choice.