A snapshot of the past work week:
Research, 5.6 hours. Interviews & columns, 1.4 hours. Blog and website, 3.8h (update: 4.5). Critiquing, 4 hours. Writing (nonfiction— I’ll tell you about it if it doesn’t get rejected), 18.7h. Writing (fiction), 0 hours.
Office work, mainly emails: 12.6 hours.
That’s a pretty-typical 46-hour work week, not counting 3.0 hours spent surfing porn (which is an underestimate overall, but 3.0 during the nine-to-five window anyway). Office work— finances, mailings, trying to figure out why I haven’t been paid for Firefall, but mostly e-mails— devours more time than anything else except actual writing-for-money, and it weighs in at two-thirds of that far-more-respectable activity. 12.6 hours on e-mails. Two work days, with lunch breaks.
If you look closely, you might see something else conspicuous in its absence: there’s no field for “genre reading”. I don’t mean science reading, or reading to research my own stupid books, or reading under a deadline because someone leaned on me for a blurb. I mean reading for actual goddamn pleasure and enlightenment. Reading to see what tricks my friends and colleagues and role models are up to these days. My writing has grown too inbred even though I’m surrounded by inspiration, whole bookshelves full of novels and stories acquired over the years but never read because some new bit of research was lighting up the feeds, or the column was due, or I’d already skipped running once this week and the plumpness was ratcheting up. That kind of reading. Because it doesn’t just shame me that the only novel I’ve read since the summer was The Martian: it diminishes me too, because I’m losing touch with the rest of the field. I’ve been losing touch for years.
I really need to make a change, and I need to do that before I dive into Intelligent Design.
In the meantime, I watch a lot of TV.
I blame you for that, actually. All of you. The people who insisted I shouldn’t have given up on “Agents of SHIELD” after three episodes, because it got really good just thirteen episodes later. Those who admit that sure, “Person of Interest” is formulaic and derivative and badly acted for the first couple of seasons, but if I just hang in there I’ll be treated to a first-rate, intellectually-challenging epic about bootstrapping AI. I blame you all, because my self-esteem issues make me very susceptible to peer pressure, and I’d much rather lay that responsibility on society than on me.
So I’m catching up on SHIELD and sure enough, it gets pretty good around the end of the first season before re-mediocrifying into the second. The BUG and I continue to plow through “Person of Interest”, waiting for some Person therein to become Interesting (when is that going to happen, by the way, and dear God why couldn’t it happen sooner?). “12 Monkeys” started off better than expected, and maintained that high bar right up until the second episode when we were shown a modern mental institution in which a patient— committed for presumably slashing a roomful of throats— is allowed to wander the halls with a scalpel, visiting and threatening other patients who are tied to their beds. Also an institution in which any inmate can apparently make it down into the basement sub-levels (and hence outside) if they’re at least sane enough to open an unlocked door with “This Way to Freedom” stenciled above the knob.
The return of “Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” and “Orphan Black” all seem so far away, as distant as any star. Thank God Archer’s back, at least.
So this is the plan: allocate specific amounts to time for specific activities. Those emails that devour your whole day if you let them, then devour the next with replies to your replies? One hour, every morning. The blog, which all the Winds agree must be fed new material at least three times weekly to stave off being trampled in the Darwinian meatgrinder of the Midlist Tubthumpathon? One. Hour. Per. Day. Five per week.
If an hour isn’t enough time to keep the emails in check— if they burst Thunderbird at the seams and spill pixels all over my desk— I’ll triage and amputate. (Some folks will have to make peace with the fact that I won’t always get back to them, and when I do I may not have had a chance to read the 50-page pdf on the lachrymal-gland secretions of Bonaparte’s Gulls they sent me.) If a blog post isn’t complete after an hour (and it never will be), I’ll just stop and pick it up the next day, and hope that by the time I finish the fucking thing it won’t be an antique.
Most importantly, I am going to read again. I am going to make the time. I am going to devote one day a week to Morgan and Miéville and Martel and a bunch of other authors whose names don’t even begin with M. I will force my gut to accept that pleasure does not equal unimportance. Henceforth, the mere fact that I enjoy reading will not give “enjoyable reading” the automatic short straw every time a deadline demands I chuck some lesser priority overboard. This is research, dammit. It will make me a better writer even if I don’t find it completely onerous.
Of course, in some ways this isn’t much of a change. My correspondence with many of you has been sporadic for years. Unanswered emails from 2010 still sit in my In box— you can never have too many unfinished tasks hanging over you, right?— but it’s been a long time since I entertained serious hopes of answering them. I’ve got several blog posts lying around in various states of completion— movie reviews, thoughts on time travel in popular culture (go see Predestination, by the way), little self-back-pats about vaguely βehemoth-like sulfur-munchers turning up under the Juan de Fuca Ridge, or hints of large potentially Big-Benian objects lurking undiscovered in the outer reaches of the solar system. (I’ve also been working on a strategy to reduce the number of unarmed civilians killed by police through the implementation of a randomized tit-for-two-tats strategy of retributive cop-shooting, but I’m still trying to figure out if it’s possible to present such a thesis without being childishly naïve on the one hand or a reactionary asshole on the other.) When it comes to blog posts, the whole hour-a-day law seems great at producing fragments, but not so hot when it comes to finished product. Hell, I’ve had to go way over today’s hour just to get this fucking thing out the door.
Still, there’s something to be said for formalizing the approach. I’d actually planned on doing that before now— hell, I’d be long-since finished The Steel Remains if I’d booted the new schedule up on January 1 as originally planned. But you know. Things got in the way.
No longer. I will read more. I will write more. I will be a receptionist a lot less. Starting now, next week at the latest. Just as soon as I get my In-box down below thirty.
Anybody know when “Hannibal” returns?