Novel Writing Status, January 2021
“So, Scalzi,” you ask, “how is the writing on the next novel going here in January?“
Thank you for asking. The answer is: Not well at all!
And the reason, of course, is [gestures at the world]. I made the comment a couple of weeks ago that it wouldn’t actually be 2021 until January 20th at 12:01pm, but turns out neither I nor anyone else really had any idea just how 2020 the first couple of weeks of January 2021 would be.
Here’s my here’s how my January novel writing has gone so far:
January 1-3: Hey, it’s New Year’s weekend, maybe actually relax and get ready for the first work day of 2021 on January 4.
January 4: Here we go! Aaaaand: 250 words. Okay for the first day back!
January 5: Another 250 words. All right, but, gotta bump up those numbers, those are rookie numbers.
January 6: Well, fuck.
January 7 – 10: Seriously though what the actual fuck
January 11: Okay, focus! Sooooo here’s another 100 words plus moving some stuff around to see if it’s any better in a different configuration, okay, no, not really, fine, but still, you did something, that’s a victory, take it
January 12 (today): Gaaaaaaaaaaah fuck where is my brain
And the answer to that is the same answer as I think most other people have at the moment: Following the news to find out what Our Seditious President and His Traitorous Party are up to today. To recap: The president just ordered a hit on Congress and also American democracy; his enablers in Congress are in deep denial about that and/or trying to pretend, like the abusers they are, that it’s somehow the Democrats’ fault; and all the president’s little insurrectionist foot soldiers are apparently waving their Trump flags and screaming “we’re coming back to do it again next week!” This is not conducive to writing novels, folks, or at least to me writing them.
(“But you’re writing this, how is that different?” Well, because this is reaction. It’s me processing events; I don’t think after 22 years of this site being around that it will come as a surprise when I tell you that one way I contextualize and get a grip on the world is to write about it here. Reaction is a different writing muscle than creation, and my creation muscle works best when its owner (that’s me) isn’t freaking out about the world (or is sick, which is a thing that happened last November and December).)
(Also, I think it doesn’t help that the current novel I’m writing is meant to be a little darker than what I usually write, is a war story, and has a political subplot (in the context of that universe, not this one) which helps drive the story. To the extent that writing fiction can be seen as escaping this world into a different one without the problems of our own, the world I’m “escaping” to is, as a matter of structure and story, not at all better for my overall mood.)
The next novel is meant to come out in October; it’s January and I’m nowhere near done with it. I can still get it done in time for October, depending on when I do finish it, and how much of a crush we put — again — on the editing and production processes. Tor gave me extra time with this novel so that I could get it in early enough that we could have a leisurely production process and have more time to market/promote it. This was a fabulous idea, which happened to run smack into 2020 (and this bit of that year’s hangover), and the various physical and mental challenges that year offered.
As they say, it is what it is. I’m responsible for getting my work done, and while Tor and the people I work with there have been more than understanding about where my brain is and how it’s had an impact on my productivity — in no small part because they’ve seen that impact with other of their authors, and themselves — I still feel bad about the current state of my novel. One of my great selling points is reliability; like the Post Office, I deliver in rain and snow and sleet and dark of night. But like the Post Office, our current situation is really fucking with my reputation.
I feel bad about that — but I feel bad about it up to a certain point, and not much after that. Without qualification, we live in extraordinary times, times that have no exact parallel in our country’s history. I wrote this on Twitter the other day:
And the thing is, it’s true. January saw a bomb go off under our democracy, put there by a president whose own emotional frailty made it impossible for him to accept that he was voted out of office, and by a political party who saw a concrete benefit in pretending that a legitimate, legal election was anything but. Both the president and his party spent months energizing the worst among us into the violence that we saw last Wednesday, violence which may continue in the week to come, and perhaps even beyond that. To be clear, the events of last Wednesday are not a direct parallel to 9/11 (Twitter folks immediately started nitpicking that, because of course they did), but they are on the same level of wrenching national impact.
And, well. How bad should I feel about having my ability to write a novel impacted by that? How bad should I feel for at this moment prioritizing the real world over a fantasy world? In both cases: Not all that much! Right now, I feel intellectually that the real world is where my attention should be. And also, even if I did not feel that way intellectually, on an emotional level my brain is going to focus on the real world anyway. I can either fight it or accept it. I’m going to accept it.
Here’s my plan from now through 12pm January 20: I’m not to preclude the idea of getting work on the novel done, but I’m also not going to fret if it doesn’t, because, after all, [gestures at the world]. After 12pm January 20? Well, I suspect I’m probably going to need a day or two to see how things shake out immediately after the switch in administrations, and then we’ll go from there. Please know I don’t expect the world to immediately change into a happy land of cakes and flowers in the week after the inauguration. I’ll just be looking for the signs that it’s all right to start thinking about other things again.
Why do I tell you these things? Two reasons. One, to the extent that it’s useful for me to say “Hi, I’m an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of many books and someone who has been writing professionally for 30 years, and this last week has fucked up my brain, don’t feel bad if it’s done the same to you,” I’m happy to do that. You and your fucked-up brain are not alone.
Two, if in fact my next novel doesn’t get released in October, and is punted down the schedule a bit, the events of this month, and a bunch of the stuff leading up to it, is some of the reason why.
I’m okay with that, and you should be, too. Neither I nor Tor, nor any other of my publishers, has any interest in putting out something that reads like I was distracted and unfocused. If the book comes out in October, it means I was able to get back into the novel’s world on time. If not, then you’ll be glad I took the time to get back into the novel’s world. Simple as that.
That’s the state of my novel writing, right now.