Monday, August 18, 2014

The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five (Middle Finger Deathmatch: Maintaining Control vs. Going Completely Insane)

History: VERA DIETZ was just about to come out. My agent had sold EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS to my present publisher, Little, Brown where I started working with Andrea Spooner who is a genius and my perfect editorial match. There were several interested houses, and let me tell you, when I had to make the decision, it was hard because I'd done a lot of losing hope during that process (see yesterday's post.) Ultimately, I made the right decision. By October when I wrote this, I was already working on my 2011 book, ASK THE PASSENGERS, and was ready to submit a partial to my editor at LB. I was now juggling--the new book, the edits for ANTS, and the promo for VERA. 

And yes, those are my middle fingers dressed up in little puppets. 

First published: October 12, 2010

The Writer’s Middle Finger: Part Five 
(Middle Finger Deathmatch: Maintaining Control vs. Going Completely Insane)

I used to think: When I finally become a published writer, I will be mellow. I didn’t want to freak out or be stressed. I took my trusty writer’s middle finger and flipped off the idea of being pressured. “Up yours pressure! You can’t catch me! I am too mellow!” I did this because I lived the life of a very very very mellow person for a very very very long time. I wrote on my own terms. I grew that writer’s middle finger. And I vowed to never let publishing change me.
That said, I am an admitted workaholic. I work my ass off. Usually past midnight. Every night. I didn’t come here to fail. It didn’t work seventeen years to shrug and leave it up to the gods of publishing. I raise the finger. “Up yours gods of publishing! You can’t decide my fate! I’m gonna do whatever it takes to beat your insane odds!”
So, yeah. 2010 was the year of the Middle Finger Deathmatch. Who would win? Control or Insanity?
Ah, the Illusion of Control
I used to have a schedule. Not for life. I can’t schedule life. I have little kids who vomit whenever they want to and need to have up-to-date immunizations. But my writing life? Was scheduled. It was scheduled so I was always one book ahead. Even though I can’t write full-time, I stayed the course. On track. Always. One. Book. Ahead.
It worked out great for a while. I sold The Dust of 100 Dogs and then the minute it was sold, I started writing Please Ignore Vera Dietz. And right after I sold that, I started the next project, Everybody Sees the Ants. I was on schedule. Things were in control. I was mellow. But then the last year of my life happened. And at the end of it, I had a new agent, a new publisher and I was no longer on schedule. Fact is, for a few months there, I didn’t even know my own name. My career was wonderful and my life was wonderful, but GASP! I was now completely out of control. I was off course. Not mellow.
The Beauty of Insanity
Once you go completely insane, you can act really weird and no one seems to think that’s out of place. And you don’t have to brush your hair or wear “appropriate” clothing. You can ramble. I’m still learning how to do this job. I’m juggling way too much and I can barely keep track of what the hell I’m doing without verbally reminding myself all the time. Sadly, others have to live through this, too.
OTHERS: So, what are you working on?
ME: (eyes dart around room, eye contact at 5% maximum) Well, I’m about 30k into my next book (#4) that I want done before the new year (that should have been done last May as far as I’m concerned) and I’m working on edits for my next book for Fall 2011…they’re due in 31 hours and 8 minutes and I’m about to release the next book in 11 days and I have two other ideas I’m working on for the books after #4 as well as two secret projects that are not YA. And I’m still toying with two of my adult novels. Oh. And there are 77 unanswered emails in my inbox and I have to write about 12 interviews and essays in the next fortnight for promoting the new book and I have to go on a mini-tour in about three weeks that I can’t afford but I’m doing it anyway. Oh shit. And I forgot to wash my good jeans. Dammit. (Rummages through purse to find neon pink post-it note. Writes WASH GOOD JEANS on it and sticks it to her chest.)
It’s pretty clear who won the Middle Finger Deathmatch. And frankly, I can’t figure why I ever put my money on maintaining control. Maybe it’s because I’m type A. (After 40 years of denying this, I am admitting it here. Applaud please. It will save me thousands in therapy costs.) Maybe I really believed that I could always stay one book ahead. Maybe there really are people out there who can do that. But for me, Middle Finger Deathmatch has proved I am not one of them.
The Best Part
Being completely insane is fun. It helps me exercise that middle finger even more than I did in the beginning. Being insane helps me flip off the parts of this business that are a major drag. Now I don’t have time to reason with bad advice or those silly people who complain about how I write books with the word fuck in them. Yes. I do. Now go away. I have things to do, vomit to clean up, and apparently, I have to relearn geometry because since when did they move it to third grade math? And then I have to…

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Stay tuned. Tomorrow is part six. 

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