State of the Writer, December 2018 edition

Posted in Books, Cast, DAW.

This is technically the November edition, but I have been neck-deep in page proofs for Firstborn. Which were due today.

November was actually a really productive writing month (until page proofs). I found the beginning of The Black Gauntlet, title entirely tentative, and have one prologue and three chapters.

I have more of the Severn book, but some changes from novella structure were necessary. Not as many as I was afraid there would be–but to be fair, I was afraid I would have to ditch all 30k words, so.

I have copy-edits for War incoming today, which will eat some writing time – but War is a June title. So: February 2019 and June 2019 for Firstborn and War.

I made a comment over at Tor.com, on a review of the new GRRM book, which, because I’m not on-line that much, I can’t figure out how to link. So, it is cut and pasted below.

“65. Michelle Sagara
Fri Nov 23, 2018 3:13pm Favorite This

You wouldn’t be okay if you told your kid to clean their bedroom and instead they cleaned a different room. So why is it okay for GRRM to write a different book than is desired?

Because GRRM is *not* my kid. I might tell my kid to do their chores, and have a discussion with them if they don’t–but they’re MY KIDS. They’re not a total stranger whose only intersection with me is the book I buy from a bookstore.

You can’t fire him because you don’t employ him. A reader fires an author by ceasing to read their books–and you’ve done that. But the support – i.e. read his books – or the lack of support – i.e stop reading his books – is all that we as readers are entitled to.”

I’ve spoken about this before. In 2009. It’s almost ten years later, and my thoughts haven’t really changed all that much. Do I feel that my readers are entitled to an end to a series? Yes. Because they took the chance on the start of the series. They took that chance on my books. It’s true that without readers, I wouldn’t be able to finish them. It’s always been true.

But conversely, I don’t actually feel that I am anyone’s employee. I certainly don’t feel that I’m anyone’s child (except my mother, who would probably not be thrilled if I randomly assigned parent roles to total strangers).

I want to talk about this a bit.

It would kill me to be GRRM. It would close to kill me to be Patrick Rothfuss.

Not the success part, of course, and it’s often the success that is seen first, foremost–or at all, which is why most people will not tell you that it would kill them to be either writer.

When I was going through page proofs of Sea of Sorrows, the anxiety and stress of this late book was great enough that I couldn’t look at the published book for six years.

This was going to be my next book? This book? Everyone was going to read it and everyone was going to hate it and everyone was going to say, I waited 2.5 years for THIS? I wanted to throw it all out. To throw it out and start it over. But Sheila said No, I was wrong. This is probably the only reason that the book escaped my house. I was so stressed out I couldn’t see the book clearly.

You can’t really talk about this in public, because some readers believe that you are deliberately turning out garbage because you don’t care about them. You have to be careful, because, in fact, the opposite is true.

Some readers do think it’s as simple as turning on a tap. You need a glass of water? Get off your butt and go to the sink! But… it’s not that simple. Sadly. Writing comes from a blend of emotional and intellectual brain space. When your emotional space is out of whack – say, because you know people have been waiting for this, and waiting, and waiting, and you’re desperately afraid of disappointing the expectations that have been (sometimes less than quietly) building for literally years…

Every sentence is under the gun. We all write a sentence at a time. If every period causes you to go back and look at the sentence, if every pause dumps you into a minefield of doubt, it’s paralyzing.

The voice of your book is swamped and overwhelmed by the Voice of Doom that is fear and anxiety. You need to be certain that this will be worth it to readers. And, in front of your computer, that sentence on the screen… you’re suddenly certain that it isn’t. It’s not good enough. You can do better.

You can do better.

So… you fix that sentence. No problem, right? But then you look at the whole scene.

And the scene is flat. It’s wrong. It’s not going to pay out the anticipation. You will be nothing but a disappointment and people who loved your early books will fall out of love with your books. And and and and…

Sea of Sorrows is, at the remove of many years, one of my favorite of the volumes that comprise Sun Sword.

And yes, Firstborn is even later. It will be 3.75 years from the date that Oracle was published. It’s 3.75 years. Not 7. Not 8.

This is why I tend to stay off the internet, as well. When I can just focus on the writing itself–and not the pressure and not the fear of failure and the building anxiety–it is much easier to write the book I want to write.

I can hear the voice of the book, and not the voice of my fears. The two don’t really go together well =/.

If I were GRRM or Pat Rothfuss, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be trapped in an iterative rewrite, a constant purge of the words that do exist. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t pull the book back and throw it out and start it again, because this time, I would get it right. I’m not sure that Sheila’s reaction would be enough to somehow get me back to the place where I trust myself and my story.

26 Responses to State of the Writer, December 2018 edition

  1. Lore says:

    For the record, I enjoy your written much more than grrm’s. Dieing to know about severn but I didn’t think he’d ever get a book until this year so I’ll wait. I mean I’ve wait this long for a certain book three… Nightshade arguing with his brother will have to tide me over until then.

  2. Hillary Wade says:

    Sea of Sorrows was not my favorite book when I was reading them as a late teen in the late 90’s as the books came out. It was a long wait because I found Broken Crown probably the year after it came out and I loved Uncrowned King so much that it is the only one I re-read without reading the whole series. But…now that I’ve read the series several times start to finish, Sea of Sorrows is one of my favorites and it is a book that grows better as I age and have more of the experiences, disappoinments and joys that life brings. I was in Toronto a couple years ago and I am still kicking myself that I never tried to find you in your bookstore to ask for autographs. And you’re better than GRRM and Pat Rothfuss, at least to my taste :)

  3. Earle Davis jr says:

    My dad was a writer and even though he wrote books for college students, it isn’t any different. Although he didn’t have social media to deal with, there are still issues to deal with.
    I’m not reading Marten anymore cause he let the series die to do tv and if it’s hard on me to re-read, not sure he could get back into GOT.
    Love both your books, and I will wait for you to do what you do so well.

  4. michelle says:

    The great thing about being an author, in a purely words-on-page sense: no one else can write your books. I can’t write either Martin’s or Pat’s; they can’t write mine. But… people can read all three and even like all three, for different reasons.

    I loved Name of the Wind. Also, Wise Man’s Fear. And I, like many other readers, still look forward to the final book in the trilogy, and not only because it will win me a bet.

    I just – hmmm. It’s hard enough when you’re shouting at yourself on the inside of your head. It’s got to be infinitely worse when people are also shouting on the outside of it, if that makes sense.

    But I’ve been enormously lucky in my readers.

    Also: I’m still in that bookstore and still in Toronto :)

  5. michelle says:

    @Earle: Yes. I don’t think any PhD student in the history of the universe considers their non-fiction thesis to be easier.

    And, to be fair, musicians and artists have some of this as well – I think it’s a creative tendency: imposter syndrome and general anxiety.

    I understand when people give up or people lose patience or people move on. I have done it myself for a number of series, some of which weren’t finished and some of which moved in a direction I wasn’t interested in as a reader. No reader owes anything to any of us, and if our books no longer speak to you, and you stop reading, I understand that.

    I have to understand that, because I’ve done it as a reader.

    So much of my writing, though, comes from my experience as a reader. And so much of my own fears about it, as well.

  6. Steve says:

    Said it before, I’ll say it again. I’d read the napkin you wrote a grocery list on with anticipation and wonder. Your THAT good. I’ve got a very short list of ‘go to’ authors (Erikson, Huff, Maguire, Tamara Jones, Richard K Morgan, and Keith Giffen anything Comic Book).. But your top of the list, first on the bookshelf since I discovered the Hunter’s duology all those years back.

  7. Kerri Knorr says:

    3.75 years…. has it been so long? *Googles up the publishing date* OMG, it has. Time gets away from me so fast these days, I would have sworn is was just last year or maybe the one before.

  8. Dawn says:

    I truly believe that we as readers have no say in how, what or when a author writes. We can enjoy the book, or not. We may own the book, but not the writer. I love your writing! Your books have shown me so much. They have gotten me through some very trying times. Thank you Michelle for the stories you have given us!

  9. David Youngs says:

    I think that creators sometimes get too close to their work for too long and start to see imaginary flaws. I suspect that W.S. Gilbert ran into this — after a couple of months of rehearsals the jokes don’t seem as funny anymore.
    Hillary, I was in the shop today (my biannual visit) and Michelle wasn’t there, but I don’t think she is on Weds.

  10. Farrell says:

    I love your work, I will wait for it until you think it is ready. I love Pat’s work, I will wait for it until he thinks it’s ready.
    What do fans think they are accomplishing by hounding an author for their next book? I have seen so many posts telling Pat to “Sit down and write the 3rd book, already!” Do they really think that is helping the process in any way? Do they really think an author has no right to a life outside of the writing process? Do they not want the best book possible? We have no right to the next book, it is a gift when it arrives.
    Thank you for the very many gifts you have given us.

  11. Angela says:

    I believe that most of the complainers have not successfully written a book, as I have never seen this complaint from an author. Because they haven’t, they speak from a position of entitled ignorance while never being aware of it. I can wait for GRRM and Rothfuss, because there are so many other books to read in the meantime. Waiting does not diminish my enjoyment when the book does arrive and I feel that I am probably reading a better book because the author took their time. Just my opinion. If writers aren’t living life, how do we expect them to have the experiences to write well?

  12. michelle says:

    @David: Mondays and Saturdays, currently. At the store, I mean.

    And yes, I think the problem is that writers find it difficult to be objective about their work. It gets worse – for me! – as time passes. Usually, between submission and page proofs there’s enough time and distance to view things more objectively. (This is an elastic use of the word ‘usually’). The problem is this: without emotional investment the book is dead on the page.

    But books, music, art – they’re all acts of communication. Communication is so individual, we can never be certain that we’ve done it at all well. It’s not like conversation – even thorny conversation – because by the time we’re certain one way or the other, the book is fixed in place. It can’t be changed.

  13. michelle says:

    @Farrell: The trickiest part, I think, is that reading is personal. Readers don’t read the same book the same way, and different elements will move them. BUT when we love a book, we love it. There’s a deep emotional attachment that forms to the books that speak to us.

    So that emotional attachment is part of the response. If there was no emotional response, the readers wouldn’t care one way or the other, if that makes sense?

    The books are the only point of contact with the author; they love the books, and, hmmm. Some readers feel as if they are being ignored or put off or disregarded, and because the book is the *only* avenue of connection, it becomes about the book. Or the next book.

    @Angela: There is no reason why they should attempt to write a book, though; they want to *read* a specific and usually non-existent book.

    But yes, there are readers who genuinely feel that a) writers *know everything* about their books in advance. Every detail. B) It’s a matter of taking what is known and putting it on the page, like, hmmm, typing.

    Even when I *know* everything about where this book is going, the book will sometimes diverge. What my intellectual, strategic brain knows– Skirmish was supposed to be entirely political. It was grounded and set in Averalaan. I had the entire cast of Terafin and their various interconnections all mapped out. I knew what all but one of them were planning. I had a general shape of events and timing.

    I did not expect chapter five. And the entire book became something I had not consciously planned. But… the leaves. And the wilderness. And the Stone Deepings. And – actually, I’ll stop there.

    I did consider ditching chapter five and starting it again so that the book conformed to what I’d planned. But – the chapter five as it exists now? It’s built on what I’d written. I did not see it clearly until then.

    Does this mean I have no clue? No, not always.

    But as a reader I kind of thought that every *other* author *knew what they were doing*. Just… not me.

    So, if I carry that forward: Readers love those books. Readers think their authors are *genius*. And readers think that the books that exist in the heads of the authors are already mostly complete; it’s just about… the typing.

    And yes, once you start to try to write a novel, you begin to understand the process is not just typing. And you can do all the world building and research and etc., but – it’s not about just research, either.

    So that’s what I think is happening. Those people who are telling the writers to essentially shut up and sit down and write are people who believe on some level that the actual book is mostly just typing out what they already know.

  14. Nina Åhlmans says:

    I’m so eager to read Firstborn! In Sweden we have a saying “the one who waits for something nice, can’t wait too long.” Well.. really… I have waited perhaps to long for GRRMs book… but for my favorite writer I’d wait even longer!
    Your writing is magical, I wish I had the words to tell you how The sun sword series resonates within me, or The house war saga but I can’t. I recently read the Cast in series in just a few weeks, stealing time in between work, children family life. It was the ultimate binge read, such a total relaxation and intrigue. Look forward to all of your new books. Thank you!

  15. chibipoe says:

    Eagerly anticipating Firstborn, but wanted to pop in here for the first time to say that Sea of Sorrows remains, to this day, my absolute favorite book of what you’ve written. I’ve been following the books since the day I found The Broken Crown in the paperback section of a local grocery store back in 1997.

    I initially wasn’t able to get into it, despite the fabulous Jody Lee cover, and it sat on my shelf for a while before I tried again about six months later and that time, it consumed me wholly as the story swept me off and I witnessed Diora’s bravery as she placed herself against her father, and those in power, to strike at them in the only way she could that would truly matter, derailing them at the moment of their victory.

    Now, it’s 2018 and we’re just a little more than 2 months away from the fiftteenth book in this series. The war in the South ended, Jewel’s faced tremendous challenges and yet more remains for her and I eagerly anticipate Firstborn, as I mentioned

    Your books remain an inspiration for me, as having them on hand has seen me through some rough spots, and I recommend them to anyone that I know enjoys fantasy.

    Thank you for all that you’ve written!

  16. Tyronne Hodgins says:

    I freely admit that I could wish my favourite authors could release their stories a little more frequently BUT life simply doesn’t work like that. The reason I have favourite authors is because I enjoy the craft and emotion they put into their stories. A long running series is a beautiful wondrous adventure. I’ve loved everything you’ve ever written Michelle. It has always been worth the wait. I still thank that stranger from the World’s Biggest Book store for introducing your work to me so many years ago every time I pick up one of your books.

    I’m glad that GRRM has released his next story. Yes, it’s about time but I’m not going to complain about it. Life happens. I rather see it as an opportunity to start reading this story from the beginning and getting lost all over again in his world. That’s not a bad thing to my way of thinking.

    I have hope that Patrick will eventually release Door of Stone. For that matter, I’m still hoping that Melanie Rawn will finish her Exiles Trilogy. Yes, I’m getting up there in years.

    I am an author’s employer in that I purchase the finished product. That’s it. No more, no less. Good things come to those who wait and in the literary world, patience is a virtue! After all, who wants to read a hastily written piece of tripe? Not me.

    As a child of 8 or 9, my grandfather once told me – “Any job worth doing deserves to be done to the best of your ability and take pride in the doing. You owe that to the job and more importantly, yourself.”

    Your stories have always been worth the wait and I thank you for the time, effort, and pride you put into your work!

  17. michelle says:

    @Nina: Thank you!

    @chibipoe: were you on LiveJournal back in the day? Because your name is hugely familiar, and if this is the first time you’re posting here, it means I’ve seen it elsewhere :)

  18. michelle says:

    @Tyrone: your grandfather said what my father said. But also, my father said: If you have time to fix a mistake, you have time to do it right in the first place.

    Long before I started to write for publication, I loved books. Reading. But I never had the sense that my reading or buying the book was of actual relevance to the writing of it. (I also believed that anything I loved was good and sold a million copies, because: I loved it so everyone would love it, right?)

    There was no Internet when I was young, and short of writing letters by hand and mailing them to the publisher to pass on (I have a friend who did this and has kept all the responses), there wasn’t a real way to interact at all.

    My reader response hasn’t really changed. There are series I’ve stopped reading, but – I’ve stopped reading them because they no longer speak to me. I understand the disappointment readers who loved the series at the beginning feel, because obviously, I feel it as well. But… it never occurred to me to rage at the author.

    I have defended authors of books I couldn’t even finish.

    No one is trying to write a bad book. Good and Bad are subjective. I can both hate a book and understand that the author did not hate it and was doing their best. I can also understand that people loved the book I thought was terrible, not because they’re stupid but because something in the book spoke to them.

  19. chibipoe says:

    Michelle,

    That is indeed me. I sometimes look in on Livejournal, but haven’t posted there in ages. I’ve been lurking here for a while, following your posts, and decided to actually say something. :)

  20. chibipoe says:

    Also, can I just also say that I am in awe of your output in terms of words? Like, since 1991, including the two to be released next year, close to 40 books?

  21. michelle says:

    @chibipoe: I haven’t posted on LJ for a long time, either. I kind of miss it, mostly because I tend – when I have a thought – to be verbose, and twitter, for instance, is not a great platform for that.

    But also… it was an odd kind of platform, a community platform in which people read widely and commented widely.

    Close to 40, yes. I don’t consider myself hugely prolific compared to other writers – but often one compares oneself with people who are somehow getting more done

  22. Stephen Engel says:

    Michelle,
    Ditto on Steve’s comment about the grocery list. I also agree that your writing is infused with magic. You are at the top of my great authors list. I know it takes time to create quality, so I wait with joyful anticipation.
    GRRM does not speak to me at all. I really like Rothfuss, but you outshine him.
    Thank you for creating beauty and wonder. Thank you for characters that live and have character. Jewel is a real jewel. Again, thank you.

  23. DeDe says:

    Re: close to 40 = not prolific? I’m in awe of any writer who can create a world, characters and their stories for me to jump into! I can’t imagine the mental and emotional energy that takes. As far as time – I always figure it takes as long as it takes.

    BTW – I’m guessing your word count stacks up against any of those people who are ‘getting more done’ :)

    Quick question – have we seen the cover art for Firstborn? My preorder still shows No Image Available.

  24. michelle says:

    @Stephen: Thank you :). I have finally put your beautiful bookends up on the mantle, which caused a minor argument between my mother and sister about who eventually gets them…

    @DeDe: funnily enough, that’s this morning’s email. No, no cover yet (I’ve seen the rough sketch, but I can’t post that). The problem is:

    WAR was the scheduled for February 2019. The cover for WAR was finished (or the cover painting, in this case). But… the cover still works for WAR. It … didn’t work for FIRSTBORN. So splitting the book meant I had the publication slot… but not the cover. So Jody had to slot in a different cover on, hmmm, no notice? T_T.

    And again, this is all on me =/.

    The minute I have it, I will post it here.

  25. chibipoe says:

    Looking forward to it! I’ve started my reread of the previous books in preparation for Firstborn. Hunter’s Oath was finished last night, now trying to decide whether to hit Hidden City and City of Night, then House Name & Hunter’s Death before diving into The Sun Sword. Hope is to be though all of them in time for Firstborn to arrive just after my birthday in February! The best kind of gift!

    And, I do miss LJ, but most everyone I know who posted has moved on to other venues.

    Re: War’s cover. Any speak peeks of it that we might have?

  26. Peter Moore says:

    We have waited 3.75 years, but we will be getting 2 books instead of one. Since War will be out in June it will average out to be about 2 years and 2 months per book. Not too bad. I’ve completely given up on Martin, so I have no idea how long it’s been nor do I care. I sincerely doubt that I will read it if it ever comes out. Rothfuss is a little different, if he doesn’t publish before 3/1/19 it will by 8 years and right now the book will have to have rave reviews for me to go out and buy it, or even wait for it to be available at the library. To be truthful, I wasn’t too happy about Wise Man’s Fear anyway. Tho, I have to admit that I absolutely loved “The Slow Regard of Silent Things”. When he’s not stuck the man can write.
    I am eagerly looking forward to “Firstborn” and “War”, and even more eagerly looking forward to the End of Days story arc. I’ve been looking forward to that ever since you published “Huntbrother” which is my second favorite short work of yours, just slightly behind “Memory of Stone” which is probably my all time favorite work of yours, followed by “Skirmish” and then “Huntbrother”
    Any big epic fantasy is fraught with the danger of long waits between books, even Kate Elliott, and David Weber who are probably the two most prolific writers I know have made me wait a year or three for the next installment in some of their longer works. So “youse is doin’ good” as is said here in the Bronx.

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