June 5th, 2013


We are here to protect you. We are here to protect you from the terrible secret of Seanans.

Jay Lake recently asked me to collaborate with him on a novella (which is awesome, by the way, and it's about belief and duty and ghost stories and Captain Hook and you're going to love it, really, I can't wait for you to see it). Knowing how busy I am, he coached his request very much as "this is a long shot, but," because he is a sensible man who knows I cannot bend time (much). He was thus, I think, understandably surprised when I started flipping drafts like pancakes. Jay has learned the terrible secret of Seanans:

There are only two speeds. "Stop" and "go." This is why it's taken so long for my foot to heal; once I can move again, I move, running hard toward the horizon because otherwise, it might move before I can get there.

Being a two-speed creature is not always ideal. I strip my own gears a lot. Exhausted collapse is not uncommon. But when everything's working, I can almost break the laws of physics, and for me, it's a worthwhile cost/benefit structure. I'll run, and when I fall, the ground will catch me, over and over again, until I don't get back up. And that, too, is a portion of the price that comes with how I'm wired.

I have people periodically look at my inchworm lists and wonder how the hell I can do the things I do. The answer is a combination of practice and planning. Every day has to be accounted for, because I'm moving too fast to cut corners; if I slow down enough to back it up, I'll drown.

In my dayplanner, I keep a running list of the day's tasks, including target (minimum) project word counts. Writing-related tasks on today's list are as follows:

1. 2,000 words, "Not Sincere" (Indexing #10)
2. 1,000 words, "Loch and Key" (InCryptid, J&F short)
3. Process edits (two files pending at time of this entry)

Note that #1 and #2 will not stop at the exact minimum; usually, I'll have overrun of somewhere between 100 and 2,000 words over the course of a night, depending on when my bedtime is and what point I've reached in the story. At the same time, if I hit that precise minimum, I stay on target.

Separately, on a notepad, I keep my progressive word counts list. This is just a sheet of paper that reads:

6/5 - 2,000/3,000
6/6 - 4,000/4,000
6/7 - 6,000/5,000
6/8 - 8,000[LOCK]/6,000

6/9 - 76,000/7,000

...and so on down the line. That's showing the current word counts of projects in the #1 and #2 positions—so "Not Sincere," which I'm starting tonight, should have a value of 2,000 words before I go to bed, and when I go back to The Winter Long on 6/9, that first day's work should bring the book to a minimum of 76,000 words. [LOCK] signifies a project's projected removal from the list. Every morning, I cross off the totals that have been reached. If I "wrap" the next goal—say, "Not Sincere" hits 6,000 words on 6/6, because I'm so excited—then I completely rewrite the list, advancing everything by one day (8,000 words on 6/7, changing projects on 6/8, etc.). This is because it's always better to be ahead of target: it allows me to do things like "attend a friend's birthday party" and "sleep in on a Sunday" when I earn enough breathing room.

It's hard. I don't pretend that it's not. But there's something comforting in having constant, manageable milestones: if I can write 2,000 words a day for fifty days, I have a 100,000 word book. Not too shabby, all things considered.

This is the terrible secret of Seanans:

We never really stop.